Culinary exhibition aims to boost Maldivian chefs to world stage

At 2:30pm, the stage was set.

Two judges with mark sheets in hand made the rounds. Outside, three stations created for live cooking, were used each turn by three chefs from those who signed up for the live cooking demonstration.

Abdul Alim, who moments earlier had been manning the hotplate in the main restaurant, was sautéing a beef steak for his dish ‘sealed beef & roasted vegetable in paprika sauce.’

Meanwhile, a beaming Ali Abdul Rahman turns to a second batch for the live cooking demonstration.

“This is a rare chance for me – I’ve always wanted to participate in a culinary exhibition,” said the chef of 12 years of experience, 11 of which have been spent at Bandos Island Resort and Spa, the scene of the staff cooking competition held this week.

Rahman’s dish was ‘chicken with vegetable pad thai’, chosen as he wanted “a different taste, from a different country.”

Minutes later, Ali was all work, as he set about preparing a pad thai in 45 minutes. But later it would be chef Jayantha Amarasiri would walk away with the gold medal for his ‘beef fantasy’, a delicious prune and cheese-stuffed beef roulade, Cajun marinated beef steak with stir fried meatballs accompanied by mashed potato wrapped in spinach and a vegetable kebab.

Open to all staff at the resort, it was the second such annual exhibition held at Bandos. A range of categories including live cooking, dress the cake, authentic cuisine, vegetable and fruit carving gave the 27 participating chefs the chance to show off their skills.

“We want to motivate our chefs, and improve their culinary skills,” explained Ismail Shareef, Food and Beverage Director of Bandos Island Resort.

With special emphasis on encouraging the chefs to do well at competitions, Bandos recently participated in the Singapore Expo.

“This is also in preparation of Hotel Asia week that will be held later this year”, Ismail said.

The two judges presiding at the event were Chef Tyrell Wasalathathrie, executive chef at Water’s Edge in Colombo, and Chef Ishaq Salih, Executive Chef at the Royal Island Resort.

Name your cake

Inside the orchid room where all the pre-prepared items like the cold desserts and appetisers were laid out, ‘dressing the cake’ was in full swing.

Judge Tyrell wandered by and asked participant Wasantha Kumara – who was putting pink marzipan strips on his cake – what its name was.

“You should have a name for your cakes, by the time you finish them,” he said to the participants.

“It’s ‘pinkie bed’” piped in Abdulla Faiz – and sure enough, his cake was rectangular in size, with a pink drape over it, and even a pink head board. You couldn’t decide if it enticed you to eat it, or sleep in it.

Abdulla, an old hand on the exhibition circuit, had won a bronze in the Singapore Expo this year in a team event.

His work was fast and neat, and it was not much of a surprise when a couple of hours later, the first prize sign was displayed next to ‘pinkie bed’.

Bread presented for judging at the Bandos event
Bread presented for judging at the Bandos event

Honing Maldivian talent

The judges took each dish to task after the live cooking demonstration.

“You had a lovely marination going on, but the meat is so over-cooked that that one can’t taste it anymore,” said Judge Ishaq after a quick taste of a beef slice.

Judge Tyrell cut marks for sloppy presentation on some dessert dishes.

“They had enough time to do this, so the visuals should be balanced and neater than this,” he said, pointing to a sauce that was slanting to one side of the dish, next to a strategically-placed slice of cheese cake.

Ali Didi, an 18 year veteran of the field, said tips from the judges were invaluable for improving.

Like others, Ali also has a passion for participating in culinary exhibitions. He has won a silver and bronze in hot cooking on two separate occasions at the Hotel Asia exhibition.

The management of Bandos has plans to give more opportunities for Ali and his colleagues to indulge in this passion.

“Next year we’d like to expand this to holding an inter-resort culinary exhibition,” says Ismail. He says he looks forward to a day when more Maldivians will participate in international culinary exhibitions.

That day seems not far off, suggests Bandos proprietor Mohamed Waheed Deen: “with the right support Maldivians can achieve great heights in the culinary field.”