I have been working with Culinary Team Canada since early 2010 first as webmaster and later social media correspondent. I am not a chef and this is the first culinary arts competition that I have attended. It has been an amazing journey for me to watch the team grow through their photographs and stories over the past three years, and this trip to Germany has been an amazing learning experience.

This piece is written from the perspective of an amateur foodie/photographer/blogger/designer and in it I will share some of the stories and history I have found most interesting.

The 23rd IKA World Culinary Olympics were held October 5–10, 2012 in Erfurt, Germany. This year’s competition featured 1800 chefs from 54 countries, preparing more than 10 000 menus over four days.

The team has been practicing for three years, and meeting monthly in different cities for the past eight months. At practices they prepare their dishes over and and over to perfect their recipes, technique, efficiency, and presentation.

Culinary Team Canada first competed in the Internationale Kochkunst Ausstellung  (IKA) World Culinary Olympics in 1984, where they received the highest overall score and were crowned World Champions. They followed up this extraordinary debut with Gold medals in each of the seven IKA competitions since that time, including 2012.

The Culinary Olympics were first envisioned in 1894 by a group of German entrepreneurs. They hoped that by promoting German cuisine to the world and bringing in foreign chefs to share their culinary secrets with the German chefs, Germany would become a destination for tourists eager to taste the flavors of the world.

Chef Brad Horen

There are six categories in the modern Culinary Olympics, including Senior and Junior National, Regional, Military, Community Catering, and Individual. Culinary Team Canada competed as a Senior National team in two categories, Restaurant of Nations on October 6 and Cold Platter Display on October 8. They were awarded a Gold for Restaurant of Nations and Silver for Cold Platter Display.

Each team is provided with a preparation kitchen at a local culinary school, and Culinary Team Canada was set up at the Dehoga-Thüringen in Erfurt, shared with the Alberta regional team and the NAIT student competitors. We were lucky because the kitchen was only 10 min from the Messe (convention center), but others were up to an hour away.

Restaurant of Nations
In the Restaurant of Nations competition the team had five and a half hours, working in full view of the judges and the public, to prepare an elaborate three-course dinner including a hot appetizer, main course, and dessert for 110 people. This was followed by a 2-hour service to guests who purchased tickets for their country of choice.

Nine kitchens were set up in a long row at the back of the main hall in Messe Erfurt (the convention center). 35 national teams competed in these kitchens over four days, and the Junior and Military teams competed in additional kitchens set up around the Messe.

Our Restaurant of Nations began with a 6am call to the preparation kitchen, where we packed and loaded everything the team would need for the competition. We arrived at the Messe at 9am, unpacked, and the chefs began organizing their work stations. All the kitchens start out in the same layout, but many pieces of equipment are modular, and the chefs had an exact layout in mind for maximizing their efficiency. Each individual chef also laid out their mise-en-place, which is their personal work station of knives, garnishes, sauces, and other tools and ingredients.

Restaurant of Nations Show Plate

From 10-11am, the chefs were visited by health inspectors and judges to ensure that they met all the basic standards laid out in the rules. During this time the chefs could not touch any of the food or begin cooking prep. One judge removed a large tray of scallops because they were not in the shell--everything the chefs serve must be prepared start-to-finish in the hot kitchen, including shelling the scallops. Luckily, they did have scallops in the shell also, and they were big enough that the chefs did not need to modify the recipe.

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At 11am the competition began. There was no bell or buzzer, the chefs just began their work. They cooked without any break for water or food until 5pm, when they had to set up the kitchen for service. Still without any break for food or water, they gave an almost flawless 2-hour service to 110 people in the banquet hall. At 8:30, after water and sandwiches, they scrubbed the kitchen until it was spotless and ready for the next day’s team. We returned to the kitchen to unload around 10pm, and to the hotel around 11pm.

For information about how the adjudication works, see “Restaurant of Nations: About the Adjudication” on the Culinary Team Canada blog.

Cold Platter Display

Chef Danesh plating the cold platter display

The Cold Platter Display was cooked, built, and plated during the 24 hours leading up to judging. Chefs prepare dozens of tiny, sculptural dishes, which are then glazed and painstakingly placed on beautiful platters. The tables must be set up in the exhibition hall by 7am on competition day, when judging begins.

Starting at 5am the morning after the Restaurant of Nations, chefs met at the preparation kitchen to begin building their plates. These dishes are incredibly complex, and the chefs have been working on various garnishes and decorative elements for these dishes every day for over a week.

At 2pm, once the individual elements were shaped and set, the chefs began the glazing process. Glazing is a long-standing tradition in the world of culinary competitions, whereby the chefs coat their pieces in several immaculate layers of glossy gelatin to preserve it throughout the time it is on display. Working in pairs, Team Canada uses a secret glazing technique that they have perfected over many years.

The chefs completed glazing around midnight, at which point they began plating the dishes. This is a delicate process that requires much patience, as each piece down to a tiny salad leaf is counted and placed by hand or with tweezers.

Cold Platter Display

Plating was completed as far as it would be at 4am; garnishes were added on the competition site due to their extreme delicacy. From 4-4:30 we carefully loaded up the van with all the plates and garnishes, with chefs carrying the most delicate pieces on their laps for the ride. We had to drive slowly with the hazard lights on all the way to the Messe because Chef Dewar was sitting in the back of the van guarding the precious showpiece.

Showpiece and petit fours

Upon arrival at the Messe at 5:10am, we quickly unloaded amid crowds of other teams rushing to get set up before the 7am cut-off. The chefs set up mobile workstations, and with extreme focus added garnishes to all the dishes and organized them on the table. Chefs Gayler and Dewar put the final touches on their appetizers and stepped away at 6:59am, just as the Messe staff cordoned off the display area for judging.

At the Awards Ceremony on Wednesday, October 10 the overall winners of the IKA 2012 Culinary Olympics will be announced. Check out CulinaryTeamCanada.ca to see our final standing.

The 2012 Culinary Team Canada members are:

Culinary Team Canada
Website: http://culinaryteamcanada.ca
Facebook: Culinary Team Canada
Twitter: @CulTeamCan
YouTube: CulinaryTeamCanada
Flickr: CulinaryTeamCanada

Jessica Keyes is a web designer, photographer, and social media consultant from Edmonton, currently residing in Baltimore, Maryland. @prairieskygal prairieskydesigns.com
Photo credits to Jessica Keyes

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