Solving the mystery: Chef of The Year
Head judge Andrew Atkinson gives insider advice to entrants about creating magic - with useful tips for home cooks, too
Getting a mystery basket in a cooking competition is not that different to cooking at home, where you have to use whatever you find in your fridge and cupboards to concoct something wonderful.
Mystery baskets in competitions usually contain protein items (meat, poultry, fish etc), carbohydrates, seasonal vegetables and fruit and one or two "mystery" items. There is always a community table of ingredients with basic things like oils, grains, flour, seasonings, spices and sometimes extra vegetables and fruit.
Make a list of all possible food items from each category that you might expect in the finals and plan what you would do with each. When planning each course, try different preparations, textures and tastes that complement each other. Plan which ingredients work best together. As a general rule, work on two proteins and two vegetables for a starter, and two proteins, a starch, two vegetables, sauce and a garnish for the main course. Dessert should contain a hot component, a cold component, a fruit component and a crisp element.
Look for ways to use out-of-the-ordinary items to add interest and excitement to your dish. Remember that competition portions are a lot smaller than normal restaurant portions - the weight of all three courses together should be around 750g.
As well as balancing the tastes and textures in each dish, plan your presentation carefully, laying out all items in a visually appealing way. Make sure the plate size complements your displayed food.
With each item on the plate, ask yourself: would I want to eat this? Would guests want to eat this meal? What would my mentor, chef, general manager or mother think of this meal? What would they change to make it better?
The key to success in any competition - or in any meal - is proper planning. And practice does make perfect. Keep practising, and good luck!
. CHEF OF THE YEAR (first prize R50000, second R15000, third R5000) is open to professional chefs over 30.
. YOUNG CHEF OF THE YEAR (first prize R20000, second R5000, third R2000) is open to chefs between 25 and 30.
. JUNIOR CHEF OF THE YEAR (first prize R10000, second R2000, third R1000) is open to chefs under 25.
. STALWART OF THE KITCHEN (first prize R10000, plus R1000 for each finalist) is open to cooks and chefs over the age of 35 who have never entered a competition. This is for those whose work forms the backbone of the kitchen. They do not need a professional qualification.
HEAD JUDGE: Andrew Atkinson (executive chef at Michelangelo Hotel and MasterChef SA judge)
KITCHEN JUDGE: Arnold Tanzer (Sunday Times Chef of the Year in 2008 and culinary producer for MasterChef SA)
Hilary Biller, editor of Sunday Times Food Weekly; Jackie Cameron, executive chef at Hartford House, KwaZulu-Natal; Michael le Borgne, executive chef at Foodcorp's Innovation Centre, The 7th Floor, Cape Town; Reuben Riffel, chef patron of Reuben's Restaurant, Franschhoek; Andrew Unsworth, editor of Sunday Times Travel Weekly.
HOW TO ENTER:
. Entries must be received by Friday September 14 2012
. Finalists will be notified by Friday September 21
. The finals will take place at The 7th Floor, Foodcorp's Innovation Centre in Cape Town, from October 2 to 4
For full details, rules, guidelines, lists of required ingredients and entry forms, e-mail email@example.com or visit www.facebook.com/sundaytimeschefoftheyear.