How Chennai chefs won The International Chef Competition held in Singapore recently

“They took our knives.” Chef Sheetharam Prasad looks bereft. Sous chef Ganesh nods sadly. “They took everything.” Chef Prasad continues, “I was so surprised… I asked, ‘But why are you taking all my equipment?’ Then they gave us just one small knife to work with.” One small knife. One charcoal stove. And five ingredients: “Lotus stem, jackfruit, drumstick, chicken and dates.”

The International Chef Competition, held in Singapore recently, came with a host of unexpected challenges. Organised by the Singapore Tourism Board, along with the Indian Restaurant Association of Singapore and Indian Chef’s Culinary Association, it was part of a 10-day food festival. With a ‘Tradition And Innovations’ theme, the festival featured a competition that pitted chefs from five Asian countries against each other. With two teams from India and one each from Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, the competition required the chefs to cook with no frills, in a completely new environment making use of local products.

Complex menu

Corporate executive chef Sheetharam Prasad and sous chef Ganesh from GRT Hotels and Resorts, Chennai, won a gold medal with their creative take on authentic Indian cooking. “I started practising at 7 a.m. every day,” says chef Prasad, discussing how timing was crucial, since the first part of the competition involved making a three-course meal in 90 minutes. “I wanted to make ghewar, but it was taking 10 to 15 minutes a piece. And to finish the menu we had planned, we needed to complete each dish in under seven minutes.” Nevertheless, they worked out a challengingly complex menu. The starter was a green gram smoothie, sweetened with jaggery and flavoured with cardamom. “I got this idea from a Karaikudi food festival we did at the hotel. I didn’t want to do jal jeera, even though that would have been easier,” says chef Prasad. It was served with a plate of malai murgh, galoti kebab and paratha. “We also made mint chutney, tamarind chutney and onion salad,” says chef Prasad, adding that it was the complexity of the menu that impressed the judges.

Dessert safari

For the main course they did a seafood moilee of shrimp and fish poached in coconut milk stew, served with steamed red rice string hoppers and mixed vegetable poriyal. Not to be outdone, dessert consisted of a jalebi tower drizzled with rabadi, mango shrikand, kesari and khubani ka meetha. “When we got there, we realised there was no tandoor. So we made the kebabs in the oven and used a blow torch to get the colour right,” says chef Prasad.

Part two of the competition involved the mystery challenge. “I wanted to make coconut rice, but there was no grater, so we made lemon rice instead.” Fortunately, the Indian food repertoire always has plenty of options. Even with Singaporean ingredients. And a single knife.