These guys are good… Cook off day at Culinary Festival Bernard Loiseau

Thursday 3 April – it’s the BIG day for the six Island chefs taking part in the Culinary Festival Bernard Loiseau at Constance Belle Mare Plage.

Constance Lémuria's Sandy Sokalingum with Gastrologik's, Jacob Holmstrom

Constance Lémuria’s Sandy Sokalingum with Gastrologik’s, Jacob Holmstrom

Luxury Aficionados journalist Peter Bojesen reports on the action from Mauritius.

Today is the day when the result of three days of intensive preparations will be put to the test. Preparations have been made in close cooperation with their Michelin-star European partner chefs – but today the Constance Island chefs are on their own, except for a commis-chef giving a helping hand. Each chef has four hours to prepare eight identical starters and main course to be judged by the jury.

8:30am: The Island chefs enter the kitchen after having a last, encouraging pep-talk with their European mentors at the Blue Penny Café The young local chefs seem tense and their smiles are somewhat strained. The next four hours may be crucial for their careers, and the importance of the situation weighs heavily on their shoulders. Mauritian chef Sandy Sokalingum, who will return to the Seychelles on Sunday where he works as chef de partie at the Seahorse restaurant at Constance Lémuria, leaves the Blue Penny with the words: ‘I feel well prepared to meet the challenge – but I must admit that I didn’t sleep much last night…’

12:30pm: The six members of the jury have taken their assigned seats in the Blue Penny Café. Members of the press and many hotel guests have arrived in the restaurant together with the six star chefs. Now these guys look nervous – having spent the previous hours speculating on how their Island partner is doing. We all (except the jury) gather in a miniscule ante-room close to the kitchen, where the action by the chefs can be followed on a TV monitor. In a few minutes the first of the starters will appear on its way to the jury.

Taste test: Judges Juan Amador Perez & Mrs Dominique Loiseau

Taste test: Judges Juan Amador Perez & Mrs Dominique Loiseau

A warning is called out, and six plates pass in a rush in front of our eyes. It is Sandy’s creation and his Swedish partner, Jacob Holmstrom looks rather pleased: ‘It looks close enough to what we wanted to achieve,’ he says before tasting the starter prepared for him. ‘The same goes for the taste – not 100% perfect, but close enough.’

Ten minutes later the next starter arrives. It is the work of Yogessen Ramen – the local partner of British chef Tim Allen, who also has a smile on his face. On so it continues. Every 10 minutes a new creation passes by, made by the partners of the Swiss, Japanese, German and French chefs respectively. First the starters – then the procedure is repeated with the main course, which has Berberie duckling as the main ingredient.

Every dish is welcomed by loud cheering and applause by all the people in the room. The noise and the heat seem to increase as the hours pass, which most likely is due to the endless flow of Deutz champagne. Tim Allen, star chef of the Launceston Place Restaurant in London sums it up: ‘There has been a fantastic ambiance since the beginning of the Festival, but today beats everything I have experienced. Great to see how all the chefs applaud each other’s creations in spite of us being competitors. I really think that lasting friendships have been made during the past few days, and that may very well be more important than winning.’

I am sure that Tim’s words sound like sweet music in the ears of the organisers.

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The heat is on… Day 3 at Culinary Festival Bernard Loiseau

Wednesday 2 April – the final day to get everything ready before tomorrow’s finals at the Culinary Festival Bernard Loiseau 2014.

Peter Bojesen gives the day’s highlights from Mauritius.

Event chefs: Jacob Holmstrom & Masashi Ijichi

Event chefs: Jacob Holmstrom & Masashi Ijichi

A final without the star chefs present – only the Island chefs will be allowed in the kitchen at Constance Belle Mare Plage, each with an appointed commis chef at his side.

Today was the day when the finishing touches to the recipes are made, the dressing of the dishes approved, the recipes written.

I arrive in the kitchen in the morning and the tension is palpable at several of the stations. Some chefs seem to be more relaxed than others, however. One of those is Mirto Marchesi from Switzerland: ‘I’ve been very lucky with my Island partner, Emmanuel Fortuno, who normally works here at Constance Belle Mare Plage,’ he says. The two are sitting at a table with their starter dish in front of them, trying to compose a fitting name and to write the recipe required by the jury. The starter looks like a beautiful painting, where red, orange and green colours dominate. Hopefully, it tastes as good as it looks…

Chef Masachi Ijichi comes from Japan, and runs a one-star restaurant in the French city of Valence and speaks very little English. As his Island partner, Damika Sarath doesn’t speak French a translator is needed, but apparently it hasn’t affected the bonding between the two chefs. ‘Everything is going just fine,’ Masachi says with a big smile, ‘we have the same kind of philosophy regarding gourmet cooking, and I have learned quite a lot from my new friend, who normally works at Constance Halalevi in the Maldives.’

German chef Jens Rittmeyer also seems quite cool in spite of the heat in the kitchen. ‘I enjoy working with my partner Dinushan Patabadage who comes from Sri Lanka but works at Constance Moofushi in the Maldives. Our two dishes are well under way, and I am sure that Dinushan will perform well tomorrow,’ he says, while his partner is busy dressing the main course on a bone white Raynaud plate.

Leaving the kitchen, I enter the Blue Penny Café, which today hosts the Service and Arts de Table competition, which for several years has been a part of the Culinary Festival Bernard Loiseau. Five tables have been beautifully laid, each occupied by two carefully chosen guests. Each table has been assigned a waiter, each of whom has won an internal competition in five of the hotels in the Constance group.

The guests are served a gourmet lunch by the five waiters in question under the watchful eye of three jury members, one of which being Mme. Dominique Loiseau. I watch several courses being expertly served, red and white wine properly presented and poured, coffee and tea offered. Everything seems to be perfectly in order, and I am quite sure that the jury will have a tough task deciding on the winner.

But just like the cooking- and sommelier competitions, we shall all have to be patient and wait until Saturday night to learn the names of the different winners of the ninth edition of the Bernard Loiseau Culinary competition.

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Spices of Mauritius

See how Mauritian spices are prepared in the traditional way, using a stone slab and rolling pin.

Here’s a video from the Culinary Festival Bernard Loiseau taking place at Constance Belle Mare Plage this week.

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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.

 

 

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.