Finally, it’s cooking time… Day 2 at Culinary Festival Bernard Loiseau

Bringing daily highlights from the Culinary Festival Bernard Loiseau in Mauritius, Peter Bojesen, luxury travel and food journalist, is at the heart of the action at Constance Belle Mare Plage.

In the kitchen - Culinary Festival Bernard Loiseau 2014

In the kitchen – Culinary Festival Bernard Loiseau 2014

After 24 hours of intense talks, the six teams taking part in the Culinary Festival Bernard Loiseau finally found themselves in front of the pianos in the kitchen of Constance Belle Mare Plage early Tuesday morning, 1 April 2014.

British star chef, Tim Allen has been raring to start cooking since he arrived in Mauritius, and I have the distinct feeling that the others have felt the same way, including the Island chefs. Cooking is their passion, and cooking is the reason why they all find themselves in this beautiful, sun drenched country in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

Today is the day, when the strategies of yesterday laid out by each team shall be tested, implemented and tasted.

‘Are we on the right track? Do the two dishes live up to the credo of Bernard Losieau: “The taste, gentlemen, the taste”?

‘Is the recipe too complicated for the island chef to make all by himself on the final day? Can he/she create eight identical starters and 8 identical main dishes within the four hour time frame? Have all the compulsory items been properly used in the menu?’

These questions and many others have to be answered by no later than Wednesday afternoon.

Swedish chef Jacob Holmstrom tells me that he has had some rather heated discussions with his partner Sandy Sokalindum, who normally works at the luxurious Constance Lémuria in the Seychelles. Jacob likes to keep things simple (which is by no means easy to prepare – rather the contrary), while Sandy is used to a more elaborate cuisine.

And this is a perfect example of what the Culinary Festival Bernard Loiseau is all about – sharing ideas between professional chefs with different cultural backgrounds and traditions. Jacob feels that the exchange with Emmanuel is healthy and mentally challenging, and he is convinced that it can only lead to a better end result. He and Sandy obviously hope that the six jury members agree when they convene on Thursday afternoon, 3 April.

The atmosphere in the kitchen is slowly starting to change. From a very relaxed start in the morning to a more tense and nervous mood as the hours pass by. The game is heating up, the race towards the top of the podium is on. And time is running out…

Here’s a glimpse of the action from Day 1 at the Culinary Festival Bernard Loiseau.

 

 

Chefs visit Port Louis market, Mauritius

The start of the week at the Culinary Festival Bernard Loiseau marks the draw of the teams, followed by a trip to the market in the Mauritian capital of Port Louis, writes Peter Bojesen of website Luxury Aficionados.

Chefs visit Port Louis market

Chefs visit Port Louis market

Monday at the Culinary Festival Bernard Loiseau is the day that defines the rest of the week. At 8am, we meet the European and Island chefs at the Blue Penny Restaurant at Constance Belle Mare Plage.

After a short breakfast, it’s time to draw teams to decide which European one-star chef is paired with which Constance Island chef for the forthcoming competition.

I watched the young Constance chefs introduce themselves to the Europeans, and I was fascinated by the immediate bonding. Each team quickly tried to find a quiet place in the crowded restaurant to share thoughts on how to approach the challenges ahead.

The discussions continued in the bus to the market in the capital, Port Louis. Once parked in a narrow street in the busy centre of the city, we found ourselves next to the covered produce market, packed with fruit, spices and vegetables of every imaginable size, colour and shape.

Many of the exotic products were new to the European chefs, so their newfound local partners had a lot of explaining to do. Each team had received 500 Mauritian rupees (approximately £10) to buy samples, which goes a long way on a market in Mauritius. I think all the six teams left the place with money left in their pockets – in spite of a bulging shopping basket.

Having followed several of the teams through all the stalls, there is no doubt in my mind that the European chefs learned a lot during the hour-long visit. I am also totally convinced that the chemistry between the two chefs in each of the six teams already seems to be working extremely well both on a professional as well as on a personal level.

Having talked to all the Island chefs, I realize how important this competition is to each of them. The possibility of working for a month in the kitchen of a European star restaurant is a dream they all share. And on Saturday, the dream will come true for one of them. So the tension is already starting to build, the excitement is growing – and they haven’t even started cooking yet. That happens on Tuesday when all the teams start working at their individual stations in a specially appointed corner in the kitchen at Constance Belle Mare Plage.

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Interview with Gert Puchtler, General Manager of Constance Belle Mare Plage

I met the General Manager of Constance Belle Mare Plage Hotel during the inaugural luncheon of the Culinary Festival Bernard Loiseau. Even though he has a very busy week ahead of him, the German born hotelier seems relaxed and pleased by the surroundings.

Constance Belle Mare Plage's General Manager, Gert Puchtler

Constance Belle Mare Plage’s General Manager, Gert Puchtler

Mr Puchtler tells me that the Culinary Festival Bernard Loiseau means a lot to the Constance Group. ‘We want to bring an international culinary spirit – not only to our hotels – but to Mauritius in general,’ he says with passion, ‘and it seems to be working. Also, it is nice to see that the event works both ways, as more and more European chefs put Mauritian spices and other specialities on their menus.’

‘It is also obvious that the week of the festival becomes an important feature for our guests – and I am very pleased by the fact that an increasing number of guests return to Belle Mare Plage to take part in the event,’ he continues.
But the competition is not only a matter of image building within the hotel industry and beyond. It is also very much a tool to motivate the employees of the Constance Group.

‘The island contestants are initially hand-picked by their peers, after which they have to pass a rather tough test, both oral and written. The competition is fierce, as everybody wants to have a chance to win a one-month apprenticeship at a European star restaurant. Several of the previous local winners today have important positions in the restaurants of our group of seven hotels,’ Mr. Puchtler happily adds.

We end our discussion by discussing if the Culinary Festival is good business for the Constance Group. ‘Absolutely not,’ he says with a smile. ‘The festival is not about money, but rather about sharing and building friendships across the borders in addition to motivating the staff. Luckily, we have many loyal sponsors to share the financial burden of the event and more are coming on board each year – so we must be doing something right,’ he adds at the very moment his youngest daughter turns up at our table asking him to join her sega dancing. I guess the interview is over…

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Culinary Festival Bernard Loiseau gets underway in Mauritius

Journalist Peter Bojesen reports from the 9th Culinary Festival Bernard Loiseau in Mauritius.

Culinary Festival Bernard Loiseau - ingredients

Wonderful colours and ingredients

To me, a seasoned travel journalist who covers food events in many countries, the highlight of the year is the Culinary Festival Bernard Loiseau held at the luxurious Constance Belle Mare Plage in Mauritius.

I have just returned to the hotel after a splendid lunch, which marked the official opening of the 9th edition of the event. Six days lie ahead, filled with international bonding and sharing between six Michelin star chefs from six countries and six ‘island chefs’ from Constance Hotels.

Today’s lunch was held at Le Chassé, a charming hunting lodge, next to one of Constance’s two championship golf courses, The Links. Some 100 people took part, where the chefs had the opportunity to taste the Mauritian cuisine, and meet the sponsors, the organisers and their fellow competitors.

I am greatly impressed by the super ambiance that already exists between the six foreign chefs. In spite of being competitors, I hear a lot of laughter and see plenty of smiles. Around the lunch table I listened to the chefs talking about their passion of cooking, sharing ideas, comparing techniques, discussing new trends.

We sampled sea urchins, oysters, palm heart salad, different kinds of curry, fried prawns, Chinese style dumplings – even a sorbet in the colours of the Mauritian flag!

After all that I should be heading to the gym but a sun bed under a palm tree on the beach sounds much more inviting. It’s a question of character, I guess.

On Monday, there is a draw to decide on the teams. Then everyone sets off for the market in the capital Port Louis. I look forward to joining them – and to following their hard work during the coming days.

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Find out more about the Culinary Festival Bernard Loiseau.