It was a great honour to be invited to judge an advanced culinary art competition at the 4 Star Ostuni Palace Hotel, in Ostuni the other night. And it was a lot of fun to boot!
The competition was the penultimate event in an advanced culinary art course, organised by Emilio Geri, of Todo Modo Multisolution Travel for the Puglian region. The final evening is a charity gala dinner, raising money for the local homeless people of Ostuni. It takes place Sunday 28th February, at the Ostuni Palace hotel.
The course was designed to promote Pugliese cusine for aspiring chefs with an artistic flare, and they were fortunate to work with Head chef, Alberto Cambiasi, a highly acclamied chef at Borgo Egnazia (an outstandingly beautiful hotel, spa and golf complex near Fasano). Chef Alberto guided the budding chefs in the culinary delights of Puglian cuisine and demonstrated how to add that ‘je ne se qua’ to create a plate that, not only tastes fantastic but is also easy on the eye (much like Chef Alberto!!!).
The course took place over several weeks and Chef Alberto passionately assisted the chefs in creating amazing sushi (which is becoming increasingly popular in Puglia), traditional risotto dishes, regional dishes with a modern contemporary twist, and of course, Pugliese desserts!
The chefs had no idea what their final challenge would be and when the annoucement came of the competition, the room was filled with trepidation, excitment and eagerness to learn whom they were going head-to-head with! The chefs were randomly divided into 2 teams; ‘MATTArelli and AmalgaMATTI‘ (this was a play on words because matto means crazy, so losely translating they mean; crazy rolling pins and an amalgamated group of crazy people…..I guess it’s funnier in Italian!). Next they had to nominate a team leader. Then the real fun began in the kitchen.
Joining me on the panel of judges for this prestigious event; Erica Ciaccia head Chef at Porta Nova, a Michelin star restaurant in Ostuni, Fabio Aimar, restaurant manager at the 5 Star Hotel La Sommita and Francesco Ghionda, President of Slow Food. So, as you can see, I was in esteemed company!
Within no time at all the MATTArelli team were busy beavering away in the kitchen, pots and pans were clattering, and razor-like knives were busy slicing and dicing an assortment of vegetables. The team worked well together under the watchful eye of Chef Alberto and the judges. They produced a beautiful plate of raw seabass, artfully placed on a white plate, decorated with blanched sweet red onions, broad beans, celery marinated in Bombay Sapphire gin, mint, a manderin segment and a smearing of pureed rucola dressing. The team leader presented the plate to the panel of judges, then we independantly assessed the dish based on a select critiera set-out by Emilio.
Next to feel the heat in the kitchen was AmalgaMATTI they also worked well as a team and made light work of their tasty dish. Lentils were flambéed, egg yokes poached , various vegetables were grilled, blanched and cooked in the oven. This vegetarian dish was served on a light mayonnaise sauce, mounted with the flambéed lentils and curls of vegetable. Simple yet delicious!
It was a close run competition and standards were exceptional. However, there had to be one winner and after assessing and tasting the two dishes, the MATTArelli team was just pipped at the post by the AmalgaMATTI team!
However, congratulation goes to both teams for the passion and creativity which was evident in their deliciously tasteful, artistic, dishes.