Friday was an actual very busy day full of scheduled educational and informative events, but I was soley concentrated on a very specific one: The Global Chefs Challenge. Crowning the Top Chef in the World came down to 7 final contestants which I mentioned in yesterday’s blog.
I arrived at the Challenge quite early to make sure I had what I needed at my wine judging table: wine, glasses, spitoons for two as WACS had chosen a chef who loved wine as my second. When Gissur (president of WACS) told me that I would certain need a second, Rick provided me with Settimio Sicoli, a Canadian chef who is the Associate Department Head at the Vancouver Community College Culinary Arts Department. And here I was concerned about WACS having a problem with myself being a Canadian and Tobias (from Canada) being a finalist. By 11:00 I finally received the wine list from all 7 finalists and I had time to get a first view and appreciation of the wines selected for each dish from each contestant.
At 12:00 the Challenge started. How this worked was that Team 1 (in this case Canada) would start with the Appetizer (mushroom as the main ingredient) and then every other appetizer would follow at 5 minutes interval. Which meant that the Entrée (halibut) would arrive after 35 minutes form the beginning, with the Main (wagyu beef) after 70 minutes and Dessert (strawberry) at 105 minutes from the start of the Challenge. So 140minutes from start to finish.
The rules also indicated that if a team missed delivery of a course (i.e. appetizer) in the appropriate time (5 minutes + 1 minute) they would be put in the back of the line for pick-up, which meant that their dish would need to sit (not re-touched or re-heated) until all the appetizers would be delivered to the judges. Luckily no team lagged behind or were penalized.
Tasting and judging in 5 minutes is quite tough but for us wine judge is it was gruesome. I really never had the time to fully savour the complexities of each dish. The visual was absolutely amazing but from a wine & food pairing perspective it was very demanding. Most dishes were multi dimensional with several sauces, several vegetables and often the main ingredient prepared in several ways. At one point it took me just 2 minutes to decide which ingredient I should have with which sauce to go with the selected wine. At other times, I thought that mixing everything on my fork would prove more advantageous. Luckily my experience with international wine judging helped me with the quick pace.
I will go into much more detail of each individual dish, next Monday when I return from Daejeon.
To summerize, the 28 dishes that we tasted were all of spectacular beauty but when I chatted with a food judge, he mentioned that the concept of “More is Less” is often lost on the younger generation of chefs. However let us not forget the purpose of this competition: to showcase the talent and creativity of each finalist. With regards to wine and food pairing, more can be a detrement, confusing the taster as he/she often does not know how to combine the food flavours with the wine or creating some very different flavours. As an example, while everyone had to use wagyu beef and tenderloin was the most common cut, there were some who created a brisket. Now whomever paired with the 2008 Montgras Antu Ninquen Cabernet Sauvignon was quite successful with the tenderloin (tannins had already softened with a bit of age) but when paired with brisket, the result gave a very negative impression. The wine dried the brisket and now the very dried brisket made the tenderloin seemed tough when you tasted the two together.
While many chefs have an appreciation of wine, there are not many who actually understand the complexities of balacing wine with food. So when I discovered two dishes that, while they were spectacular on their own merit, got so much better with the appropriate wine I was excited. I am always so thrilled when I find that I can be wowed. This means that there is always room for learning.
The first was Canadian Tobias MacDonald’s main. His components consisted of 2 main beef items. The first a AACO Wagyu brisket, the second a Wagyu sirloin. As sides on the plate were: seared Canadain foie gras, mainland paremesan pomme au gratin and yam with dried brisket, cabbage puree, fiddlehead, golden beet and salsify. We often talk about how the sum is so much better than the individual parts. This was so true for this dish. And then to complement this with the 2009 Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz was, what we at Vines would label as “honking delicious”. I told Tobias that he will need to come to Edmonton and cook.(He agreed). This was my favourite dish of the Challenge.
The other was a dessert created by Geir Magnus Svae of Norway whose “Strawberry Solfrid” (white chocolate with strawberry coulis, strawberry and champagne coulis, pistacchio puree sour cream with black pepper, doughnut with mom’s stirred strawberries and yougurt ice cream) was totally enhanced by the wine selected. Geir was the only one not to choose a dessert wine for their dessert. On paper, the 2008 Dr. Loosen Ederner Treppchen Riesling Kabinett was a risky choice, but when I tasted the match, my eyes lit up and the beauty of the strawberry dessert just bloosomed into something close to perfection. My collegue slightly disagreed, he giving 24/25 and I giving it 25/25.
Before we knew it, the Challenge was over and we had to give in our notes & marks for the official judge to tabulate as the winner of both categories will be announced on Saturday evening at the President’s Gala Awards.
Then back to the hotel for a quick shower before shooting off to a reception organized by the Mayor of Daejeon at the Expo Park. Typical governement sponsored event. Some political speeches and city hall bureaucrats we recognize the world over.
Saturday was my last day at the Congress begining with my presentation of “The Joy of Pairing: Evolution & Revolution”. In front of 50 young chefs, we interacted and chatted about how to view wine with food, how wine can enhance food and the basic guidelines of wine and food pairing. Talked for 90 minutes and Andy Chubert, Chair of the Young Chefs indicated that as this is such an important topic to discuss, we can hopefully create a workshop at the next Congress which will be held in Norway. Had loads of fun and I could see the enthousiasm from many to learn more.
At noon we had lunch and then each country member president voted to see where the 2016 Congress will be held. The choices were three: Greece, Turkey or South Africa. The first round did not get the 50% required, so the lowest (Turkey) was eliminated. The Winner: Greece. The president of the Greece Chefs Association got up to say that we all will be astounded by what Greece will do for WACS. I just hope that by 2016, the economy will be so much better.
I am finishing off my blog before the Gala Dinner tonight as I may not have time to relate the events of the evening. I will certainly give you the results of both Challenges when I am back in Edmonton.
I hope you all enjoyed reading my few days in Daejeon, and I will be very happy to see you all in person very soon.