Have you ever eaten, or more correctly sampled, nine separate two course meals, prepared by some of our best chefs, over nine hours. I can tell you its both a challenge, tasting so much great food, over an extended period; and an genuine educational experience, one that gives you a small insight into the behind the scenes action in the kitchens of some of our finest restaurants and the skill of our top chefs.
It was just a couple of weeks ago that I did just that, when I rocked up to the Comcater offices in South Melbourne early on a Monday morning. Comcater, who are major sponsors of the prestigious Golden Plate Awards had provided their stunning kitchen complex as the venue to host the Garuda Indonesia – Chef of the Year cook off for the 2013 awards and I was one of the judges.
Nine chefs had qualified for the cook off, three from each of the regions (Ballarat-Daylesford; Greater Bendigo and Geelong-Otway) in which the awards are contested. First each chef received a nomination from the two judges who judged their restaurant during the course of the competition, and then all those nominees received further consideration from the full judging panel.
Each chef arrived at the venue aware of the challenge ahead, which was the Garuda Mystery Box, but of course without any idea of the contents of that ‘mystery’ box. Everyone had 45 minutes prep time and a further 45 minutes cooking time to prepare an entree and main course that was then judged and scored by our panel of four judges; which was lead by industry legend Rita Erlich.
Chef Richard Mee from Mercato (Daylesford) started us off with an entree of duck and a main course of salmon, and he turned out to be the odd man out for the day as everyone else went the other way. Over the course of the next nine hours we watched as chefs chopped and diced, carved and sliced, blended and pureed, roasted and sous-vied; and then delivered nine delicious meals to our judges table.
Two plates for each course was the order of the day, so consistency (between the two) was important and the variety of colours, styles, tastes and textures was amazing. After our fourth or was it fifth main course of duck, a line from an episode of that immortal show ‘Fawlty Towers’ popped unprompted into my brain, I confess that it stayed there for the rest of the day.
The episode is called Gourmet Night and the line offered by one of the guests after (as usual) everything has gone wrong is:-”so it’s just the duck then Fawlty”? to which Basil replies “yes Major but duck done three extremely different ways”! You may recall that on offer that night was duck with cherries, duck with orange and duck surprise; which prompted this question: “and pray what is duck surprise Fawlty”? – and this response: “that’s duck without orange or cherries Major”!
Well none of our ducks had cherries though a couple did have orange, but all of our chefs delivered plenty of surprises in their wide and varied presentation of both the duck and the salmon.
We judges had our work cut out for us picking our regional winners from which would emerge our overall champion, who will be crowned the Garuda Indonesia – Golden Plate Awards – Chef of the Year. Who is it – you will just have to wait until November 11th when the announcement is made and the prize presented at a gala evening in Geelong.