It was 7:45 in the morning on 21st November 2015 at Chavannes-de-Bogis (near Geneva) – it was still dark outside!
We were 8 finalists from 8 different places in the Suisse romande. We had no information about the final. All we knew was the meeting time, that a uniform would be provided with our own name on it and that one of us would be the winner. That’s all!
After meeting in front of Manor at Chavannes-de-Bogis, we moved to the Best Western hotel by car and changed into the uniforms, which made us look like proper chefs! Then we moved to the skating rink (?!) set up next to the hotel restaurant – not a kitchen.
Three judges were waiting for us there; they had been skating before we arrived, so they were hungry! This was to be the first cooking test: breakfast for the judges, which would add a maximum of 5 points (according to my poor memory) to each score in the impending cooking competition.
There were all sorts of breads, fruits, bacon, ham, eggs and some vegetables set out on a table, with a frying pan, electric cooker, a plate, and a set of cooking utensils. We needed to prepare a breakfast plate in 20 minutes. I was not at all prepared for this! I had thought we were just going to have breakfast together at the hotel.
After a hectic time we did have our breakfast there, then moved to the Manor, which was the main venue for the competition. The competition was in fact a tournament: to be the champion you needed to win in three different rounds.
For the first round we were separated into 4 pairs. All the pairs cooked at the same time, with the winners to go though to the next round.
The first round was a starter to be prepared in 30 minutes. We were required to use fresh lasagne and one protein ingredient: langoustine or pancetta (I think …). There was also a variety of ingredients in the refrigerator. I chose lasagne, pancetta, ricotta cheese, basil, parmesan cheese and chanterelles. It was real challenge for me to use pasta as a starter!
Luckily, I was able to go through to the next round. This consisted of a main dish, to be created in 45 minutes. The person who was paired with me in the first round helped me as my assistant. The main ingredient, which was hidden, was duck. I do cook duck, but it’s not common in Japan, so I don’t have many recipes.
We had to use this duck, two vegetables and one fruit, and then two ingredients for a sauce. We made a shopping list, and my “assistant” went to buy these ingredients from Manor. I chose duck, sprouts, parsnip, kaki (the fruit), then blueberry and sour cream for the sauce.
Now I was through to the very final round!
Now for the very last part of the competition, the grand final. We needed to prepare two dishes in 1 hour. We had to follow a recipe – down to the last detail – which was written in French!!!!! I was really afraid of such a thing. I had to concentrate very hard and read the words very carefully.
Fortunately it was an apple tart and I do read patisserie recipes in French. It was very simple, something I’ve baked many times, but we had to follow the recipe exactly!
What I regret most was that I couldn’t find a slicer that could slice very thinly. I did it by hand, but my hand was shaking, so it was mess.
We could also use any of the ingredients in the refrigerator, where there was a lot of variety left over from the previous rounds. (If we wanted something extra we were allowed to go and buy it, but the shopping time would be counted as part of the total cooking time!)
The other hidden ingredient was a red fish. Again, I couldn’t find a utensil (tweezers!) for picking out the fish bones. It was impossible with a small knife in such a short time. I finally decide to cut out the main bony part and then made two fillets.
I used the fish, dried tomato, sprouts, rocket leaves and onion. I cooked tempura as one side dish. This could have been risky (because tempura is very simple but a small mistake is a disaster), but it could also be an advantage as a “distinguished” garnish. I took the risk, and it turns out that was the right thing to do.
It was a hard final for me. I was not happy with my fish dish, but it was my very best effort in the limited time and under stress. And of course I was very happy to be able to get to the last part of the competition as a finalist!
Finally, I could hold the winning trophy. How lucky I was to be among such great finalists! They were all fantastic. I learned many things from their cooking.
I was delighted to win, but also made very happy by the kindness of so many people at this event.
All three judges were very kind, but while they were judging and tasting the dishes they had kept poker faces all the time, which made us even more nervous. These are professional judges!
Thank you to all the candidates, organisers, judges, the audience, my friends who came to see and support me at the final, my friends who have listened to me – about cooking and about this competition – then testing my food, and to my family in Japan.
To my family here in Switzerland: I cook every day for you at home, but if you didn’t eat it, I wouldn’t have been in this final! I’m sure it’s not always your favourite food, and I might often cook an awful meal, but you always eat it. (Hmm – maybe you have no choice!) So thanks again to my family.
The 2016 edition might be your turn! My experience started with the courage to press the Enter key on the PC keyboard to send the registration form. Then I had luck! I took a phone call – which I often haven’t been doing recently (because of so many advertising calls). And that was the start of my great experience.
It was a great opportunity and experience for me. I had been thinking about writing a blog for a long time. I had been starting to go forward slowly, feeling very nervous, but this competition encouraged me and pushed me to act. People accepted and enjoyed my meals! The dishes I cooked at the competition might not be the same as I cook normally at home, but they were all based on my ordinary cooking, and luckily they met with success. So I believe there are people who want to learn Japanese home-style cooking.
I hope you enjoyed my story about this competition. Here are the links to the competition website and Facebook page. You can sign up for the competition in 2016. My challenge is over … now it’s your turn! Go for it!