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Ladling out fresh ideas

CREATIVITY TO THE FORE Chefs demonstrate their skill at the SICA competition. Photo: K. Pichumani

CREATIVITY TO THE FORE Chefs demonstrate their skill at the SICA competition. Photo: K. Pichumani   | Photo Credit: K. Pichumani

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The chefs who gathered from across the country for the SICA Culinary Competition in the city proved through their innovations that many cooks only make the broth better

“Lots of calories today, yes?” asks Chef Sheetharam Prasaad, general secretary of SICA (South Indian Culinary Association), even as he cuts me a sliver of pineapple cake. I nod in agreement because conversation isn’t really my forte when I have my face stuffed with chocolate cake.

 There’s a whole spread of desserts to choose from. Then I need to move on to appetisers. Served in shooter glasses, the appetisers leave me baffled because how does one eat food served in a tall, tiny glass? I attempt to gulp down the chicken spinach cheddar roll, but that only makes the olive on top fall on my face. Chef Litwin Shanjit, watching me struggle, offers to help. He neatly picks out the roll topped with olives using a plastic skewer and hands it over to me, while I stand there, smiling sheepishly.

 It’s the third edition of the three-day SICA Culinary Competition and Exhibition 2014 and 465 chefs from all over the country gather at the Chennai Trade Centre, showing off their way with food. Petit fours, shaped like flutes and saxophones, elephant sculptures made of chocolate and coloured with chocolate dust, liver pate stuffed in fig, chocolate desserts served on salt blocks, Ganeshas carved out of pumpkin and bottlegourd, the innovations keep piling on.

 Hanging out with chefs is an opportunity to look at food differently. For, to those who indulge in the art of cooking, food is a medium for creative expression. SICA brings together these chefs in a biannual event so that they can showcase their skill and learn new techniques from their counterparts in the industry. “Tricks of the trade don’t matter here, because the more you give away, the more you innovate with food,” says Dr. P. Soundararajan, General Secretary, Indian Federation of Culinary Association.

 Food, used for artistic expression and inspiration, is primarily judged on presentation. Hushmoin K. Patel, executive chef of Raintree Hotels, thinks there’s a lot to learn from chefs who’ve thought of food differently from how he has. “Yesterday, there were lots of molecular presentations using foams and dust. Seeing all that does inspire you to innovate,” he says.

 I walk around the exhibition, looking at artistic pralines, traditionally decorated food, mini buffets and elaborate vegetable carvings. I’m closely followed by a panel of judges, with clipboards and other paraphernalia, scoring the food. Where I see 3000 calories waiting to find permanent residence in my hips, the judges see technique, creativity, composition and taste.  Artists of the culinary world are only recognised by their own customers and the management of the hotels they work for. Events such as this, takes them a step forward, earning them the respect and recognition of their peers.

 To earn the gold, which is only given away when the food is par excellence, is an honour, and the chefs participating in the competition wait with bated breath. As the hall breaks into an explosion of sound, I know that the results are being announced. Hundreds of chefs, in their white coats and hats, dissolve into cheers and whistles, celebrating their victory and those of their colleagues.

The three-day event gives an opportunity for culinary artists from around the country to connect, innovate and share. These many cooks, coming together with their different ideas, only make the broth better.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 5:47:21 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/chefs-battle-it-out-at-sica-culinary-competition/article6331894.ece

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