The Golden Spoon Contest 2016 got well under way in June at the Nguyen Du Indoor Stadium in District 3. This is the most prestigious cookery contest in the country and the preliminary rounds are held in various regions around Vietnam. Held over three days the preliminaries featured the Mekong Delta Region on Day 1, HCMC Region on Day 2 and the Southeast Provinces on the third day. The Mekong Delta Region region saw nine teams of chefs compete to go through to the semi finals. Each team consists of three chefs, one head chef and two assistants.
The Golden Spoon Contest was started in 2014. The concept behind it is to try and bring traditional country style Vietnamese cooking up to a new level of awareness and also a new standard of excellence. Most of the dishes are well known in Vietnamese rural kitchens. The herbs and spices that are used are regional, but commonplace. It is the intention of the contest to eventually see some of these dishes enjoyed in restaurants all over the world. At the same time as raising awareness of this cuisine, the organisers are also plotting out a “Spice Map” so that these special condiments are never lost.
The large exhibition hall at Nguyen Du Indoor Stadium was a hive of activity as TV crews, journalists and judges all milled around trying not to be too intrusive with regards to the competitors. This is so well run; it’s like a well oiled machine. The room is split into three sections: the cooking and preparation area, the display and judging area and finally a stage, where the judges taste the food, with formal audience seating for the presentations.
It was fascinating to see these talented chefs at work. Using ingredients, many of which were completely new to me, they presented dishes of outstanding beauty. Fresh spring rolls looked more translucent than I had ever seen them, cakes of many colours looked terrific on the pristine white tableware.
The contest is organised and sponsored by the Minh Long I Company who specialise in the manufacture of porcelain of the highest quality. It is their Horeca range of tableware that is the main sponsor here. To be honest, nothing looks better on a presentation table than high quality, plain, simple, white porcelain plates and bowls. The flawless white background sets off each individual dish perfectly.
The thing that captured my imagination the most was the calm determination shown by the chefs. It is hard creating exceptional food under normal kitchen circumstances. To do it in front of a large live audience, with TV crews crawling all over every spare inch of space, journalists asking questions, cameras clicking furiously non stop and those all important judges looking over their shoulders, must create intolerable pressure. I noticed one young woman’s hands visibly shaking as she decorated a plate prior to the main dish being added. I hasten to add that despite this, she did a marvellous job.
No amount of great photographs or prose can of course truly convey the ambience. The aromas coming from each of the preparation stations were enticing. Sadly this particular journalist never got to taste any of the exceptional looking creations that were put before the panel of judges. The audience watched on in respectful anticipation as the judges got to work. Their job cannot have been an easy one.
After the preparation time has been completed, the teams transfer their creations to the central area where first the judges, then the audience get to take a close look. The standard of presentation is outstanding. They have some exceptionally good ideas, in how to show off their dishes to the greatest effect. This really is cooking of the highest order.
After this part of the contest, the team moved one at a time to the third area, where the judges sampled the food and the chefs were interviewed for TV. This is a really nervous time for them, as they are questioned they all kept a watchful eye on the judges faces to try and glean some small clue as to what they are thinking.
Eventually, after careful consideration, the judges announced the winners and runners up. The results were as follows:
First day (Mekong Delta) Winner: Thang Loi 1 Runner-ups: Nhi Restaurant, La Veranda Phu Quoc, Hoa Binh 1