The 15-member Texas-regional Epicurean World Masters Chef Society (EWMCS) team once again competed for an Olympic medal in the 28th Internationale Kochkunst Ausstellung (IKA) in Ehart, Germany. Over 1000 participants from 55 countries entered the 2016 quadrennial event recognized as the worldwide culinary Olympics.
Led by team captain Chef Patrick Mitchell of Ben E. Keith Foods, the diverse and well-rounded EWMCS team brought a wealth of experience to the event. Mitchell’s team members were Chef Salvatore Gisellu of Urban Crust/Urban Rio, Sean Daniels of The Core Group, and Michele Brown, pastry artist extraordinaire of Brookhollow Country Club.
Supporting members included Chef Pete Nolasco of Chef Pete’s Catering, Chef Yataka Yamato of Yutaka Sushi Bistro, and Chef Ralph Fernandez from Houston. Chefs Michael Scott of Rosewood Beef and Kathi Mancini of Allen Bros. organized and coordinated logistics.
The team also featured several veterans of world competition and European cuisine, team manager Dave Sokol of Brookhollow, Morris Salerno of Bistecca who provided senior support and retired Master Chef Andre Bedouret who provided valuable insight into European culinary competition. Rounding out the team was team apprentice Bennett Brown of Brookhollow Country Club.
Preparation for the event began as soon as the team returned from the 2012 IKA event 3½ years ago. Frequent practice sessions to hone menu items built the team’s individual and collective skills. To prepare for the 2016 competition initially, the team met once a month, developing their menu and improving their entrées by critiques, evaluations and photography.
During the last year of training, practice sessions increased to twice a month and focused on details such as plating, table setting and perfecting the sheen of their aspic glaze coating.
Beyond IKA, the EWMCS is further involved in the competitive European culinary scene. They participated in Luxembourg’s 2014 Expogast International Trade Show for Gastronomy/Culinary World Cup. Participating at the world level and being recognized as a contending team among international players has reenergized EWMCS’ competitive spirit and led to a shift in configuration.
“We decided to do the format of the Luxembourg trip, doing individual entries,” Mitchell says. “The team would support each individual competitor and give a little more ground support to the each one.” Unlike conventional athletic Olympic competition, Mitchell points out that the entire team’s effort supports individual entries.
One entry the team constantly reworked was a pheasant breast entrée, entered as a hot savory dish presented cold. IKA contest submissions standards require a five-course meal including dessert. So along with the pheasant entrée, the team presented a rabbit loin appetizer wrapped in spinach forcemeat and bacon, and a salad of celery root and leaf greens with baby arugula dressed with apricot vinaigrette.
For the third course the EWMCS team planned sea bass plated with quinoa, asparagus, a citrus butter sauce and a ruby red rainbow trout mousse. The pheasant breast entrée was to be served with savory bread pudding and roasted root vegetables. To close the meal, the team conceived a dessert of pumpkin mousse wrapping cookie layers stacked with spiced green apple ice cream served with cinnamon sugar cookies and poached pear.
At the team’s final Dallas meeting, they held a dry run for their menu. Working under time constraints and conditions identical to those they would face in Ehart, the team drilled through their motions and technique, allowing Chefs Michael Scott and Kathi Mancini to inventory and arrange all instruments and tools the team would need to complete their entries upon arriving in Germany.
Once on location and the event started, all members of the team worked tirelessly. “When we get in the country and get going, you can go two days without sleep. In getting the first two competitors out, we went 43 hours straight with only an opportunity to take a one-hour nap,” Mitchell says of his team’s endurance.
Plating, presentation, display lighting and a written menu must all be done to unforgiving IKA standards. Judging is often done by chefs who are former contestants, handpicked and of the highest stature in the culinary field. They pick entries apart, prodding meat for doneness and checking for grill marks on the customarily unseen backside of servings. Vegetables are scrutinized for proper cooking techniques. Beyond food preparation, IKA judges look at a progression of flavors, ingredient compatibility, nutritional value and portion sizing. Each entry starts with a score of 100 and as judges find flaws, they deduct as they see fit.
Seated at the 2016 IKA awards ceremony dinner, some dozing from lack of sleep, the Epicurean World Masters Chef Society team began to hear their name announced for awards, both for individual savory entries and one pastry entry. “As a group, we netted one silver, two bronze and a diploma,” Chef Patrick recounts. “So it was a very successful trip.”
Relishing their Olympic victories, the team acknowledges one non-culinarian as an integral ground support member. He was unrecognized in the Olympic awards yet joined in the quest and trailed the team at every turn. Sometimes washing dishes, sometimes procuring equipment, his contributions aided in the team's overall operation and eventual success. For this the EWMCS team says, “Kudos to you, Sam Ballard.”