Though it seems the world has just recovered from the massive spectacle that was in Beijing, over fifty countries are gearing up for an Olympic competition of a different nature.
Occurring once every four years, the Culinary Olympics take centre stage in Erfurt, Germany from October 19 to 22. NAIT is once again fielding a Canadian contingent, consisting of four individual competitors and a team of managers and coaches. The institution has represented Canada quite well in the past, winning two gold and two silver medals in 2004 and three gold medals in 2000.
Wanting to allow local purveyors of social media to comment directly on events at NAIT, Mack and I were invited to observe the team’s marathon 24 hour practice session over the weekend.
A competitor rests after lunch
Our arrival on Saturday afternoon was timed perfectly – we were able to join the group for lunch. Over a plate of chicken and mixed vegetables, we learned more about the gruelling preparation and the competition itself.
Coaches and competitors chatting in the kitchen
Though I was disappointed to find out that there wouldn’t be a tasting component to the session, we soon found out why. Being a “cold competition”, the food (while edible) would be judged on appearance alone, with criteria including food preparation, plate composition and presentation. Each item on the plate (including sauces) also require three layers of glaze, a time-consuming process as individual layers take time to set. As competitors only have twenty-four hours to ready their entries, much of the food will actually be prepared in NAIT’s kitchens to be transported overseas.
All four competitors are recent graduates, but the Culinary Olympics are open to even those with many years of professional experience, making the task even more daunting for these young men. It was amazing to see the exquisite attention to detail. For example, an assembly glazing line ended with one chef poised with a heated needle, examining freshly glazed food for air bubbles to pop. Though all competitors start with a theoretical 100 points, deductions are made by judges for even the slightest mistakes and imperfections.
Looking for air pockets
Plates plastic-wrapped to prevent soiling (brought to you by Saran!)
After a quick tour of the massive kitchen (a baker’s dream!), we went home with intentions of returning at 8am the following morning to see the fruit of a hard night’s labour.
We were astonished with the transformation of the dining area. White plates of gleaming food greeted us, poised under spotlights on elegantly-decorated tables.
Desserts (those “bills” are made entirely of chocolate)
Absolutely stunning platter
Having been told each dish should mimic the portion size to be expected in a restaurant, I think I was expecting more food to be present on each plate – I probably could have gobbled up the intended three-course meal in an instant. And though the glaze was meant to preserve the vitality of each exhibition, it seemed to sap the “life” out of some dishes. At the end of the day, however, there was no question the amount of planning and work that had gone into every creation.
Lobster (the frisse looks great glazed)
Quiche (I just had to take a picture of it)
Beautiful tart (and no, that’s not ice cream you’re looking at – it’s lard made to look like ice cream)
As we snapped photos, coaches and past Olympic participants were offering their feedback on how to improve their dishes – sauce too dull-colored, an additional protein needed, an extra garnish. All competitors took the criticisms in stride, jotting down notes to learn what else they could do to earn a medal score.
Jack receives some suggestions
Thanks to NAIT for the invitation – it was a great experience to see these young chefs in action. Best of luck to Team NAIT in Germany!