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Saturday September 19, 2009

Sous chef prepares to compete against Asia’s best

IT WAS dedication, hard work and passion for what she does that led to Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur junior sous chef See Lay Na, and her assistant Mandy Goh, qualifying for the Bocuse D’Or Asia 2010.

See, who recently won the Malaysian selection, is coached by Mandarin Oriental executive sous chef Marcel Kofler and she will be going for the Asia-level competition in Shanghai next April.

Although the qualification caught her by surprise, See, who joined the Mandarin Oriental in 2006, is no newcomer to competitions and had even grabbed two gold medals and a silver at Culinaire Malaysia 2007.

During a recent invitation to the media to try the winning dishes from the competition at the hotel’s Pacifica Restaurant, See and her team demonstrated with ease and fluidity the food presentation as they served the guests.

Winning team: (From left) Goh, Kofler and See.

In the competition, See was required to come up with two elaborate preparations using meat and fish in four hours.

See’s meat course comprised the Roasted Rack of Lamb, Goat Cheese Gnocchi with Peperonata, Lamb Loin Roll with Sundried Tomatoes and Zucchini with Potato Confit, and Braised Lamb Rump Puff with Salted Egg and Pickled Pumpkin.

The fish course comprised Salmon Confit with Hazelnut Dust, Pickled Beet Root and Dill Creme Fraiche, Scallops and Spinach Custard, Ink Caviar with Pomegranate Vinaigrette and Caramelised Scallops with Fennel-Orange.

See said Kofler had coached her and they had come up with the recipes, and, in fact, some of the recipes had been served at the restaurant before.

However, for the competition, the recipes were given an innovative twist to make them more interesting and fit for a competition.

See admitted that time was the most challenging factor during the competition.

Beautiful presentation: Roasted Rack of Lamb, Goat Cheese Gnocchi with Peperonata.

“We were required to cook for 12 people, using meat and fish from scratch in four hours. That means cutting and preparing ingredients within the hours and presenting them, too.

“So everything that I did was scheduled and timed. If I missed a step, it meant a waste of time. Every minute counted,” she said.

To keep within the allocated time, See returned to work on Sundays and practised under Kofler’s supervision. She also did the full practice run, preparing all the dishes, five times before the competition.

She clocked five and a half hours during the first full practice, but gradually worked on improving her time to four hours.

Kofler said he had decided on See for the competition as she had the required stamina and showed a lot of interest in the kitchen.

“See is someone who has had competition experience before and she is also competitive by nature. This attitude helps,” he said.

With the Best of Asia as the theme for the competition in Shanghai, participants will be given a halibut to work on. Judging will be based on planning, preparation, technique, taste and presentation.

Kofler said the competition in Shanghai would be challenging as the judges were professional chefs.

“Professional chefs will look at food differently.

“Not just at how it is presented and prepared but also at various other details, such as flavour, temperature and texture balance,” Kofler said, adding that the team was still working on the Shanghai competition menu.

If See wins the qualifying competition, the team will be eligible for the final competition in Lyon, France, in 2011.

The Bocuse d’Or is a biennial world chef championship.

Named after chef Paul Bocuse, the event is one of the world’s most prestigious cooking competitions and is often referred to as the culinary equivalent of the Olympic Games.

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