EU Products In A Basket Challenge!
There is a saying that states that eating is a necessity, but cooking is an art. It’s a fair comment: the craft of making food is one that has existed through the ages, and as such the tools that go into this craft are themselves important. Perhaps this explains why the European Union (EU) is so keen on showcasing the versatility and great quality of its products to the Singaporean public in cooking. With top-notch production that stems from centuries of agricultural practices, knowledge transference, geography, and great climate, the region is optimal in great produce and good ingredients. This makes sense: chefs and restauranteurs all over the world clamour for more EU products and make their choice to buy from EU Producers. Even in Singapore, consumers can choose from a wide range of produce, products, and ingredients from 27 member countries, all made under strict standards and certified.
This was exemplified in a workshop and mystery basket challenge held in late November, where participants, members of the media, and distinguished guests were invited to Commune Kitchen. The guest of honour included Her Excellency Ms Iwona Piórko, European Union Ambassador to Singapore, who is a strong proponent for EU Agricultural products in Southeast Asia, and products certified GI or organic under the EU’s strict qualifications. Along with Ms Payal Thakurani, culinary expert and founder of Commune Kitchen at OUE Downtown Gallery; Chef Wei Shan Tan of MixSense Private Dining; and Ms Xue Wei, a journalist and founder of An Affair With Food, H.E. Ms Piórko was a part of the judging panel at the mystery basket event, which saw 5 teams from culinary schools, professional restaurants, and home cooks compete to create 5 portioned dishes for the challenge. Using a minimum of 5 EU-Originated ingredients from the mystery basket set in front of their cooking stations, as well as any other ingredients and dishware from home, the teams had 2 minutes to plan and sample the ingredients, as well as ask questions before they were set to create their dishes under 45 minutes.
“We want them to use the ingredients and exhibit them the best way they can,” explains Chef Tan. “Using simple European products such as the striploin, and the onions and pork, how can they then combine them into a lovely dish?” The judging criteria, which includes the competitors using a minimum of 5 items from the mystery basket, would also focus on observing the hygiene levels of the chefs, the cleanliness, the taste of the food, appearance, items used and the creativity of the combinations. Chef Tan, who started off the workshop with a quick cooking demonstration using beef from Ireland and other tasty produce, was optimistic about the chances the participants had, given that he has given some tips to the participants during his cooking demonstration on what to do and how they could present their food. He hoped that the participants managed to understand the products in the short time they had and see the beauty of the wonderful variety of produce available from the EU.
All 4 judges were able to taste the dishes as set by the participants, who were highly impressed with the ingredients they were provided with. “At the start, we got a bit nervous because of the wide variety of ingredients offered,” a contestant explained. He, along with his teammate were one of two teams from Republic Polytechnic representing their school in the challenge. “The ingredients, like the cheese we sampled, were much richer in flavour. Mushrooms, which we had not tried before, had earthy flavours that worked with the onions we had.”
Culinary students were not the only ones impressed with the products' quality at the mystery basket challenge. “We generally use the ingredients that can be found locally, but with the ingredients that were provided today, you can see a large difference in the quality of the products. The texture, the flavour when cooking…it’s very different,” says a representative of Team Limbo, both of whom happen to be working professionals that joined the competition out of fun. “There is also peace of mind. Whenever we cook, we always keep our kids in mind. When cooking for children, it is always good to have products of the best quality. And it helps that these products come with so many certifications and safety checks. We are happy to use products like these for cooking for our families.”
The competition ended with all 5 teams receiving products and EU hampers for participating, as well as crowning professional pastry chefs from 67 Pall Mall Singapore winners of the Mystery Basket Challenge.
“I was highly impressed by three things: that the contestants were able to use so many products from across the European Union in such wonderful ways; that they did it in a sense of fusion which I could feel Europe in each and every dish but I could also see Asian influences in very harmonious ways; and that some contestants clearly did not know some of the products at all but they were able to take the flavours after sampling and create dishes in great ways. I was most impressed by that,” H.E. Ms Piórko enthused. Indeed, it can be seen that everyone left the event with a better understanding and love for EU products and that the passion for the culinary arts was always present, especially with great tools like EU produce.