Spice Route Culinary Competition: By a Different Set of Rules

The competition jury describes experience of overseeing the contest
between 15 diverse cultures as unique and demanding


Kochi, Sept 26: Judging a cooking competition is demanding in the most standardised of settings. A contest of chefs as unique as that at the Spice Route Culinary Festival required judging parameters just as creative, the competition’s jury said.    

 

“With such a novel festival and a very specific theme, the standard rules had to be tweaked to help create a relatively level playing field for the cuisines of the 15 different countries that took part,” said Chef Vijay Nagpal, who chaired the jury.

 

In nearly four decades as a chef, Nagpal said he had never overseen such a competition. “It was such harder to judge than standard black box competitions because we were not just choosing between chefs and dishes, we were comparing cultures,” he said.

 

A neutral set of requirements was needed, accounting for the challenge of blending the spices of Kerala with the diverse cuisines of the participant Spice Route countries. The most stringent rule was that 80 per cent of the ingredients had to be sourced locally.

 

“What resulted was an interesting mix of the classical and the contemporary,” said Chef Debraj Bhaumik, executive chef at Mahendra Holidays Resorts India Ltd. “Though they had to track back to the Spice Route, the contestants used creative, innovative ways to recreate dishes from their homelands.”

 

Though marks were awarded for such generic criteria as plating, presentation, taste, texture, hygiene, among others, the standards were not absolute and focused on originality.

 

“This highlights the difference between domestic cooks and chefs. The former are reason-oriented while the latter are jacks of all cuisines and know what would and would not work,” said Chef Montu Saini, executive chef to the President of India.

 

“Out of this experimentation comes learning and discovery, which is the theme for this wonderful festival. The main aim was for diverse cuisines, peoples and cultures to learn about each other from each other,” he added.

 

“Kerala tourism and UNESCO must be commended for organising such a unique event. One hopes it will be a regular fixture on the tourist calendar,” Chef Bhaumik said.

If the crowds and questions raised during the four-day festival are anything to go by, the benefits to the tourism sector and hospitality industry of follow-up editions are undeniable.

 

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