Top culınary award wınners revealed

Grand Old House’s Chef Thushara Jayalath Siriwardana was named Chef of the Year and Leonard Khi from the Westin was named Bartender of the Year at a gala ceremony at The Ritz-Carlton, ending three tough days of culinary competition in which 50  chefs and 13 bartenders pitted their wits, skills and perseverance against fierce competition. The Journal followed their progress

This year celebrates the 20th Annual Cayman Culinary Society Competition and over the years the event has grown to its present level – a day of intense judging by three top international culinary judges of the work created by 50 chefs on island, all of whom were required to produce a hot appetiser, cold appetiser, cold soup, hot soup, main course and dessert.

Gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded by the judges to the first, second and third place winners in each category and each gold medal winner was then asked to compete the following day in a mystery basket challenge to whittle that number down further to first, second and third place overall winners. A bartender competition also took place on the second day, with bartenders having only 20 minutes to produce three top call cocktails – a vodka, rum and alcohol free concoction.

Keith Griffin, of the Cayman Culinary Society, owner and executive chef of Bacchus restaurant and co-organiser of the event (along with Vidyadhara Shetty, Executive Chef of the Grand Cayman Beach Suites and President of the Cayman Culinary Society) says the standard of the food on display has consistently improved over the years.

“This year’s competition proved to be no different and was extremely difficult for the judges to score,” he says. “Points in both rounds were awarded for practicality, taste, Caribbean content, composition and balance and in the end the difference between the medals was as little as one or two points on many of the categories.”

Keith says the second day’s judging proved to be just as difficult and it took quite some debate to decide the all-round winner.

“It’s not easy competing in the Cayman Culinary Competition,” Keith confirms. “The contestants in the Chef of the Year cook off not only endured the mystery basket challenge under the close scrutiny of the judges, but did so in a public forum with spectators including many of their colleagues and industry professionals, so they were under considerable pressure. Each of them deserves to be recognised for their positive attitude and professionalism.”

Distinguished judges
The judges included Augusto Schreiner (the lead judge), the former owner of the renowned Augusto’s Cuisine Restaurant in San Juan Puerto Rico.

“Augusto Schriener is one of the most well known chefs in the Caribbean region,” Keith states. “His career has brought him numerous awards and accolades. Previously the manager of the Puerto Rico National Culinary Team, Augusto now acts as an advisor and educator of Caribbean Cuisine throughout the region.”

Rainer Hienerwadel is one of the chief faculty members of the Culinary Arts programme at Johnson & Wales University. Chef Heinerwadel is a WACS (World Association of Chefs Societies) certified Global Master Chef. In 2006, Hienerwadel received a Medal of Honor from Les Amis d’Escoffier Society. He is a member of the German Chefs Association, Verband der Koche Deutschlands, and he has received certification as a Food Executive from the International Food Service Executive Association.

Paul Newman is the chef/owner Coyaba restaurant in Providenciales, Turks & Caicos. “Paul has been a leading chef in the Caribbean for over 20 years and long time member of Caribbean Culinary Federation. Paul worked in Grand Cayman 14 years ago for the opening of the Links restaurant and is well known and respected by Cayman’s industry professionals,” Keith confirms.

“Practicality was an important point for chefs to bear in mind,” Augusto Schriener says. “The dish needs to be easy enough to prepare professionally in a restaurant with 25 to 60 covers or at a dinner party at home with perhaps 12 guests.”

Rainer Hienerwadel adds that simplicity was another aspect that the chefs were searching for on the first day of judging. “Simplicity is tough to do properly,” he says.

Paul Newman concurred and also advises that looks were not everything. “It would be a big mistake for chefs to concentrate more on the look of the dish and forget the practicality and the balance,” he confirms.

Keith says balance is a key ingredient in the making of a winning dish. “Chefs needed to bear in mind that we were looking for around 40 per cent protein, 30 per cent vegetables and 30 per cent starch. Sometimes their dishes were too heavy on the protein and that would lose them points. Vegetables should not be on the plate merely as a garnish!”

Gala awards dinner
For the 20th anniversary event the organisers extended the schedule to include a gala dinner awards ceremony on the third day whereby chefs from over 20 of the island’s top restaurants each hosted a table of 12 guests for a personalised gourmet tasting, held in The Ritz-Carlton’s ballroom.

It was a tremendously successful event with guests eagerly awaiting the culinary treats served up for their individual table and chefs entering into the spirit of the occasion, pulling off gastronomic feasts with little space and just one assistant chef. Compares Cynthia Hew and Vicki Wheaton did a great job in ensuring the entertainment flowed smoothly all evening and celebrity chef Eric Ripert gave a rousing keynote speech about the culinary influences in his life.

Keith advises that proceeds from the dinner are earmarked for Culinary Society projects and into a scholarship initiated by The Ritz-Carlton to offer an education in hospitality studies for a young Caymanian at Johnson and Whales University in Rhode Island.

Read much more on the winners in next month’s Journal.