It was a war of flavours between teams from across Kerala at a recently held cookery competition

It was flavour warfare. Men and women in red aprons and chef’s hats, armed with ladles and sharp knives, wasted no time in going straight for the kill. They had just one hour to sort out the ingredients from a sea of food stuff—vegetables, spices, masala, dals, fruits, creams, milk, eggs, meats,…. In exactly three hours, they had to whip up an entire meal, complete with a soup or a salad and a main dish.

The team plan

At the Gateway Hotel, a cookery competition, ‘Ruchi Koottu’, organised by the Rotary Clubs (District 3201), was in progress. Participants, in teams of three, were discussing their dishes amid rapid chopping, peeling and mashing. “We are doing a chicken dip fry and a macaroni and chicken bake as main dish,” said Simi from Rotary Club Kochi North. Her team mates, Maya and Mathew, were busy doing the prep for the dish. She pointed to Maya, their team leader. “She is going to decide recipes. Things are really going to heat up. Now, it is only about 60 degrees,” she said.

Each team was given a ‘black box’ containing the same set of ingredients a la Master Chef style. And the additional ingredients could be procured from the long table laden with all kinds of stuff. The teams had tables to work on, with an induction cooker. The meats and fish were stored in the two common refrigerators. Of all the 17 teams in the morning session, only three teams were vegetarian. “The participants can make use of any number of extra ingredients. It all depends on what they are able to come up with,” said Falguni Madan, one of the organisers.

Maiden competition

The first event of its kind for Rotary members, District 3201 plans to take it to a larger scale by involving the public in subsequent competitions. “The response for the competition has been overwhelming. We already have about 35 teams from Kochi, Palakkad, Idukki and Coimbatore,” said Falguni. Unlike a regular cookery contest, a male team member was compulsory. “The men seem to be smarter than the women. It could be all that practice at home,” the master of ceremonies announced and the crowd broke into loud peals of laughter.

Ramdas’s was an all-male team and they were reliving their bachelor days’ memories through the competition. “We are going to be making a special dish called the ‘chicken starlet’. However, Ramdas refused to divulge the secret of the dream dish of his bachelor days. “We are just having a lot of fun” he said.

An aware public

The multitude of cookery shows on TV had raised awareness on food among the public phenomenally, said Michael Saju, executive sous chef of the Holiday Inn Cochin, who was one of the judges. “Now-a-days, we chefs are worried about our jobs,” he joked. “People know so much. It is no longer a niche area,” he says. He was accompanied by Suman Dutta Sharma of The Gateway, chef Rasheed of Taj Malabar and Chef Naushad of Naushad the Big Chef on the judging panel.

Taste and presentation

The participants would be judged on the taste, the presentation and originality of the recipe. Unlike in the pre-Master Chef days, a dish was not just about its taste. Presentation and plating, too, decided the overall appeal of a dish. As far as the taste was concerned, though participants could fuse culinary styles and try out their innovative tricks, the basic flavours needed to combine well.

“Of late, we see a lot of wacky combos such as North-Indian with South Indian, Thai with Indian, as long as they blend well, it’s a healthy trend to experiment,” said Mathew.

The teams would be given additional marks for cleanliness of the work area and team work, too. For Michael, wastage was another vital factor. “Wastage shows the participants’ ability to calculate the amount of ingredients required for preparation. It is extremely important to minimise wastage,” he said.

The organisers had conducted a desserts recipe competition earlier and the best 30 recipes were published in a book, Ruchi Koottu, which was released during the event. The winners received cash prizes.