Amateur chefs cook up winning recipes

Bon Vivant’s annual cook off for amateurs had some talented chefs pit their talents against one another in two semi final rounds that saw Tessa Gall and Fraser Hughes go through to the finals, to be held at The Ritz-Carlton during Cayman Cook Out this month. Blackbeard’s Jeremy Cordes gave an insight into the delicious Lapostolle wines from Chile that were freely flowing all night long.

Battling for a place in the final in the first semi final, Tessa Gall and Mike Mandish fought out a tough battle, with Tessa edging into first place by a nose. Judges for this first semi included Franz Ferschke, the general manager at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman; Keith Griffin – owner/chef at Bacchus Restaurant; and Jolene Nelson – 2010 Amateur Chef Cayman Cook Out Winner.

Tessa stuck to her roots, turning turtle stew into a delectable feast with the aid of basic seasonings including black pepper and sweet pepper and the use of her secret ingredient – a delicious sauce made from sweet potatoes, brown sugar, butter and cinnamon.

“It’s tough to cook turtle stew well the local way as it requires a long cooking time [the chefs only have one hour] so I tried to put my own twist on it,” she confirms.

Tessa believes the turtle stew and her corn balls, made from corn meal, flour, egg and brown sugar, impressed the judges sufficiently to gain her the edge.

“They seemed to be fascinated by them,” she says, that and her local almonds that she used to top off her salad, which she says she obtained from her mother’s back yard.

“They have a really distinctive flavour,” she confirms. 

The second semi final, held a week later, introduced amateur chefs Jacqueline Smith and Fraser Hughes into the kitchen, with judges (this time Chef Frederic Morineau – executive chef at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman; Keith Griffin; Jolene Nelson and yours truly) finding another tough decision on their hands.

Tessa’s sublime poached snapper in coconut milk and infused with lemon grass and lime was a delight while Fraser’s dish also excelled: duck done two ways (confit and served with a sorrel and ginger sauce) alongside a perfectly cooked risotto that had bacon and callaloo running through it.

“I made risotto for my girlfriend and she ended up my wife, so I knew it would be good!” he says.

Fraser sourced his duck locally from a tiny farm in East End.

“McLean’s flock has now reduced from 15 down to 12,” he quipped.

Fraser says he was also inspired by the local tea made from sorrel and ginger, so that gave him the base flavours for his accompanying sauce. Setting his duck on a slice of local Christmas bread, with a slice of foie gras and a layer of his mind-bendingly delicious onion confit was a stroke of genius and earned Fraser a well won first place in this round.

The winning chef, to be decided at an all-star cook off at The Ritz-Carlton during Cayman Cook Out will enjoy a fabulous package that includes airfare for two via Cayman Airways to New York City; hotel stay for two (Ritz-Carlton, Marriott); dinner for two at Le Bernardin and admission for two to Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs Event.