Chefs get cooking for the Culinary Olympics

Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel chef Kirsten Hellemann of Plumstead.

A Plumstead resident will be among the South African National Culinary Team going to Erfurt, Germany, for the Internationale Kochkunst Ausstellung ( IKA) Culinary Olympics in October.

Earlier this year the team of seven South African chefs met at the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town for their monthly practice.

Each month leading up to the Culinary Olympics the team will meet to practice and prepare their menus while perfecting their timing and strategy for the games.

Last month the team was able to come together in Cape Town to practice their hot menu for 127 guests at the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel.

This live trial allowed the team to undergo the pressure that they may face at the competition in October, while meeting the requirements of the event.

Of the seven chefs on the team, four are from Cape Town: Henrico Grobbelaar of the Southern Sun Waterfront lives in Somerset West, Dion Vengatass of the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel hales from Vredehoek, Arno Ralph of the Lindt & Sprungli South Africa resides in Sea Point, and Kirstin Hellemann of the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel lives in Plumstead.

Blake Anderson of 3SIXTY and Billy G. Montecasino, Jerome Norton of the Four Seasons The Westcliff Hotel, and Minette Smith of HTA School of Culinary Art are all from Johannesburg.

“1900 had (the) first Culinary Olympics,” said team manager Heinz Brunner as he explains the history of the competition.

First conceived in 1896 by a group of German chefs wanting to promote German cuisine in the world, the first Culinary Olympics took place in Frankfurt, Germany in 1900. The first competition modestly hosted a group of only four nations. As time progressed the games would gain popularity and prestige.

At the last Culinary Olympics in 2012, 54 nations participated with 1 600 chefs.

The event took place every four years in Frankfurt until 1996 when it was moved to Berlin. In 2000 the competition went to Erfurt, where it has been held since.

This year the event is expected to host over 50 countries with more than 2 000 chefs participating. In 18 glass kitchens, these chefs will go head-to-head to prepare over 7 000 menus during the four-day competition.

This year the Culinary Olympics will take place from Saturday October 22 to Tuesday October 25. The event will bring in national teams, youth national teams, regional teams and caterers to compete for top titles in their discipline.

Mr Brunner said the South African team is responsible for preparing two menus during the upcoming competition: a hot kitchen and a cold kitchen menu. Event rules require participating teams to prepare a one day culinary and pastry art programmes and a one day hot kitchen programme.

The culinary art programme consists of four different kinds of finger foods for six people, one cold buffet platter for eight people, three different starters for one person, one lacto-ovo vegetarian three-course lunch menu for one person, and one festive menu for one person with dessert.

The pastry art programme includes one show item only using edible food, four different plated desserts for one person, and a display of sweet biscuits, chocolates, petits-fours or friandises.

Mr Brunner said the hot kitchen competition involves a three-course meal for 110 guests. The team will have six hours to complete the menu from start to finish. This menu will include a starter, a main course and a dessert for each person.

The team is “busy now,” said Mr Brunner as the team worked away in the 100-year-old kitchen at the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel.

The team began their menu at 12:30pm that day and had the allowed six hours to complete their presentation for the hotel guests that arrived later that evening.

As each chef whisked away in the kitchen, Mr Brunner and team advisors critically watched all of the preparations, making sure that they were up to par for the dinner later that evening, and even more so for the international competition in October.

The kitchen was hot, the smells were delicious, and the work was intense.

The menu will consist of a starter of Cape Lobster “Malay” – poached crayfish, pressed carrot terrine, carrot mayonnaise and Malay curry sauce, which is paired with Morgenster NU Sauvignon Blanc 2015 for the Chefs of Distinction dinner; Springbok “Masakhane” – pan roasted loin of springbok, rolled veal sweetbreads, red cabbage and cider puree, savoy cabbage and Boulangére potato, paired with Morgenster Lourens River Valley 2011, and white chocolate and coconut mousse, rose gel, coconut sorbet and pulled sugar, paired with Morgenster Italian Collection Nabucco 2011.

“The team (has been) together for the last two years,” said Mr Brunner.

However, the South African national team as an organisation has been competing since 1980.

Mr Brunner, himself, was on the culinary team that participated in 1984. The 2016 Culinary Olympics marks the team’s 10th year participating.

Mr Brunner said the preparation for the upcoming games has taken, “a lot of development and research.” He said that this work has been going on for the entire two-year duration that the team has been together.

All of the team’s chefs are professional hotel chefs with two of them actually coming from the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel.

Thus, last month’s practice was a thoroughfare of sophisticated chefs zipping from one end of the kitchen to the other.

As they chopped, whipped, and prepared meats everything seemed to work in perfect tandem in the kitchen.

The team chefs were helpful of one another and had a genuine passion to perform well together. They are a team.

The IKA Culinary Olympics estimates that teams will use approximately 9 360 pieces of cutlery, 10 000 pieces of porcelain and approximately 12 900 napkins, around 20 000 eggs, 1 000 kilograms of meat, 1 200 kilos of fish, 700 kilograms of potatoes and 4 600 kilograms of vegetables in preparing their menus this October.

* Elliot James is a student at Mercer University in the USA, currently doing a two-month internship at Cape Community Newspapers, which publishes the Bulletin.