Masterpiece theatre

A diorama inspired by a movie rat wins top culinary award.

IN real life, a rat in the kitchen would send the cook helter-skelter. But Remy, the rat who is a gourmet chef, was an instant celebrity at the recent Culinaire Malaysia 2009, Malaysia’s finest culinary event. He commanded curious attention as he stood on a wooden crate cooking the French vegetable dish, ratatouille.

Prying eyes and clicking cameras didn’t faze him at all as he kept busy in his kitchen. After all, Remy was the star of Remy’s World, the pastry showpiece that had won the only gold with distinction at the competition.

It was the winning entry from kitchen assistant Shiu Siew Ling, 19, of Hotel Equatorial, Kuala Lumpur. What was even more impressive was that this was her first attempt at the competition.

The showpiece, made of plastic sugar (or pastillage) and icing sugar, was inspired by Ratatouille, the 2007 computer-animated film which revolves around Remy, the rat who dreams of becoming a chef.

Equatorial KL’s executive pastry chef S.K. Lim was all praise for the talented teenager who was fresh from school but a fast learner. “She’s deft with her hands. She amazes me in some of her school art works, like writing her name on a grain of rice and making a keychain out of chestnut shell.”

Shiu’s showpiece stole the show and was perhaps the most photographed entry at Culinaire Malaysia 2009, a biennial culinary event.

Held for the third time at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre from Aug 11 to 14 in conjunction with the Food & Hotel Malaysia Exhibition 2009, the competition drew participants from Singapore, Indonesia, South Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan, China and Malaysia.

The event, which was held for the first time in 1993, was jointly organised by Malaysian Association of Hotels, Chefs Association of Malaysia and The Malaysian Food & Beverage Executives Association.

“People were queueing up to take shots of it. Tempers flared when some visitors took a long time to take pictures, while others waited their turn,” related Lim, Shiu’s chef mentor who has been guiding her.

Panic set in when on the third day of the event, the difference in temperature between day and night softened the pastillage shelves in the kitchen in Shiu’s showpiece. Chef Lim quickly came to the rescue, removing the tiny cooking utensils to prevent the shelves from buckling under their weight. By noon on the last day, the showpiece had to be withdrawn from display to prevent further damage.

Shiu took one month to plan and design her work and another month to execute it, fussing over her masterpiece only after working hours, sometimes into the wee hours of the morning.

“I got the idea from my pastry chef who made a rat and a monkey as decoration for a wedding cake this year, Also, I had to watch a DVD of Ratatouille umpteen times to get more ideas,” she said.

Chef decorator Norammar Md Masri, 36, of One World Hotel in Petaling Jaya took the Most Outstanding Artist award.

A seasoned competitor who had bagged several medals at previous Culinaire Malaysia, he took part in five classes this time around.

His showpiece Artlicious (coined from “art” and “delicious”), made from 10kg of chocolate and took 1½ months to produce, garnered a gold. It featured an artist painting his subjects, a boy and a girl, who was savouring a bar of chocolate.

The three dome-shaped wedding cakes covered in white Massa Ticino (fondant) were pretty and neat. Each cake was decorated with daisies, butterflies and piping work. It won the gold in the Elegant & Stylish Wedding Cake category and was created by pastry chef Kumaran Murugan, 29, of Hotel Istana, who won the Most Outstanding Pastry Chef award. He also won two bronze medals in the plated dessert and “dress the cake” categories.

“I chose daisies to adorn the cake because the flowers are difficult to make. I took three weeks just to make the daisies. It was in Dubai that I took a four-day course in flower making (for cakes) with Wilton,” he says.

It was the second time that Kumaran had taken part in Culinaire Malaysia. In 2003, he only managed a diploma for plated dessert.

But the hardworking chef did not give up hope and continued honing his skills. Two years ago, he won a gold for his wedding cake and plated dessert entries at Salon Culinaire in Dubai.

Kumaran, who had a four-year stint in Dubai, is an “accidental” pastry chef. He was working in the Western kitchen of a five-star hotel when the pastry chef, Subramaniam, asked him to join the pastry kitchen.

Malay chef Hamdan Ahmad, 33, of Westin Kuala Lumpur won for Most Outstanding Chef, his biggest win to date. He has taken part in Culinaire Malaysia seven times and has previously won six medals and one diploma.

With 12 years of culinary experience, he said: “I inherited my cooking skills from my parents who are the real chefs. I was also inspired to work in the kitchen by my uncle Mohd Hafiz Abdul Rashid.”

For someone who started as a floor steward, Hamdan has certainly found his niche in cooking. There is no secret recipe to his recent success except that he believes in “cooking from the heart”.

Hamdan is grateful to the hotel’s director of kitchens, chef David King, who put absolute trust in him to create new Malaysian traditional signature dishes, and his mentor, assistant director of kitchens chef Rudy Junaidie.

Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre grabbed the Most Outstanding Team award in Culinaire Malaysia 2009 with its medal haul of six gold, 11 silver, 22 bronze and 11 diplomas.

This was its second time winning the award since participating in 2005.

Its bartender Mohd Saufi Paujian, 22, walked away with the Most Outstanding F&B Personnel Award. He won a gold for table setting, a silver for mocktail and three bronze for cocktail, flairtending and fruit flambe. He has four years’ experience in bartending.

“After my SPM, I took up a part-time job as a bartender. I stayed on when I felt I loved the job,” said Saufi, who has concocted over 100 drinks.

The taste of success was all the sweeter as his present workplace does not have a permanent cocktail bar or restaurant in its premises. However, he has to come up with new drinks now and then and also offer suggestions on matching wines with food.

He was the first runner-up in the Malaysian leg of the World Class Bartending Competition 2009 and represented Malaysia at the South-East Asian meet in Singapore recently, for which he was in the top five ranking.

Judges’ say

Chief judge Rudolf Miller said: “A gold with distinction is given for the perfect creation. Not too many golds are given but even a silver is good. On wedding cakes, overall, there is a good standard.”

Commenting on Remy’s World, Miller said that the kitchen seemed too squeaky clean with “no droppings” (spillage). However, he said a gold with distinction was awarded for “perfect” work.

Judge John Yong of Malaysia said: “There’s not much improvement (new ideas) in ice sculptures and buffet showpieces. In fruit carvings, there is still over-emphasis on flowers. Participants should move away from floral designs and come up with more creative ideas.”

In future competitions, he said there were plans to re-introduce butter sculptures even though the category was scraped about a decade ago as butter sculptures were deemed unhygienic as buffet showpieces.

Judge Perry Yuen of Hong Kong said: “In the pumpkin carving category, most contestants worked on floral designs which are ‘old ideas’.

“They have been told to work on something different, like figures. I believe there’s room for improvement with a change of mindset.”

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