Thursday, 20 March 2014

The Chef of the Year - competition

If the day kicks off to an aperitif being poured into one's glass before it's even 10am, the day can't go wrong, right? This, and the rich tapestry of humanity, is one of the things I found myself pondering yesterday as I changed trams in Kallio neighbourhood. Some people were on their way to sample food prepared by the best chefs in the country, some queue for food aid. I felt so humble and privileged - seeing I was part of the first lot and on my way to dine at Gastro 2014 fair and the Chef of the Year- competition, as the guest of Pernod Ricard. 

Knowledgeable, friendly and relaxed service is a crucial part of a successful restaurant experience. That is something restaurants in Tallinn have for long been known for, but Finland isn't too far behind. Though it's not something to take for granted, not even in a Michelin-starred restaurant, as the discussion at our table soon revealed. For the second year running The Chef of the Year- competition also hosted The Waiter of the Year - contest, celebrating the talent of these unsung heroes.

You try to focus in all that commotion...!

Our table consisted of food bloggers - some I knew from before and some new. What with the cameras and opinions we couldn't have been the easiest of party, but we sure were the one with most fun! And we rooted for our boys like nobody else, which didn't go unnoticed. They're a modest bunch, by the way, those professional chefs - the most we could get out of them as they were assessing their own performance was: "well, it went ok, I suppose..."

A true professional at work

Our food was prepared by Heikki Liekola from Grotesk Meat Bar and served by Toni Yksjärvi from Gastrobar Emo. Toni competed in the contest already last year and did well - he was awarded for the best overall customer care experience. And rightfully so: the service was laid back, prompt and well and truly professional. The napkins got unfolded into our lap and wine and water glasses were refilled as if by themselves. Amusing anecdotes shed some light on the wines and (and even coffee beans!) he'd chosen to serve us.

We kicked the meal off with Jameson-based cocktail which featured Champagne too. Fresh and delicious and the glass oozed old-fashioned charm of a bygone era.

The starter was prawn cocktail, prepared right at the table. A golden oldie, yes, but I - ever the fan of big, bold flavours - would have loved a bit more oomph.

Riesling it was served with could have had more acidity, but upon our waiter's hint we saved some for the main course too. The recommendation was more than spot on: it complimented the gentle earthiness so beautifully.

The main ingredients given to the chefs for the main were pork tenderloin, pork shoulder and celeriac. This is what our chef turned them into.

Classic, rustic flavours with a light and elegant execution we couldn't stop talking about. The red (Merlot - Petit Verdot) this was served with came from Spain.

With coffee we had petit fours and digestives. Mine, Jameson Select Reserve Small Batch whisky worked well with the toffee-filled chocolate.

Our table thoroughly enjoyed itself. Our part was the easy one - the actual judging was left to the judges. Stellar line-up included Michelin-starred chefs and TV celebrities. Waiters' each move was carefully monitored by a jury of their own.

Easy it ain't, but someone's gotta do it!

We had so much faith in our boys and it didn't go amiss. The results were revealed last night and they are both through to the finals today! Yey us!

As I made my way back home (on my way from dinner, at noon...) my rhythm was a bit off but I was in high spirits (literally - with all that drinking): Damn, it's great being a food blogger!




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