Do you have what it takes to represent your country in the kitchen? Eurest Executive Chef James Larkins recently stepped up to do just that, competing in the Culinary Olympics 2016.
Imagine 18 glass kitchens with more than 2,000 chefs from over 50 countries preparing more than 7,000 fresh menus, turning the Erfurt exhibition halls in Germany into the largest restaurant in the world. From 22-25 October, international teams got through around 20,000 eggs, 1,000kg of meat, 1,200kg of fish and an incredible 4,600kg of vegetables — creating edible works of art at the largest international professional competition for chefs.
The sweet taste of success
James joined 12 other Compass chefs in the gruelling four-day cook-off. As well as taking part in nine individual competitions, the elite squad was proud to make up half of the England team.
Not only was this the first time that England’s entry was heavily represented by chefs from the foodservice industry, it was also the first time Team England won gold. Taking home an impressive haul of ten awards, including an individual bronze medal for James in the Individual Class category, the Compass chefs relished the opportunity to demonstrate their skills, passion and talent.
A culinary quest
This was James’ first taste of international competition, and he loved every minute — although it was an exhausting process. “It’s been a real challenge, with lots of ups and downs during the journey,” he comments. “It was an absolute pleasure to be fortunate enough to be a part of this team. It was really hard work, but there were also some very funny moments.”
Just one of these was James’ nickname, ‘rip it up’, after the song by Orange Juice. The team gave him the title after he ripped up so many of the drawings he’d made when planning his food presentation.
The gourmet gauntlet
All of James’ preparation was well-spent though. He faced a significant challenge — tasked with designing four different finger foods (two hot and two cold), along with a five-course meal. Not to mention the high-quality, originality and technical element expected from every course.
To perform as well as he did, James had to learn new skills very quickly. He found the challenge given meant he had to become more technical in his approach, including making sure to measure evenly before cutting. He also says: “Competing at this level meant remaining confident about my ideas, although I did change my mind a lot.” Hence the nickname…
More, more, more
And now James has had a taste of success, he’s all fired up for a fresh challenge. “Taking part in the Culinary Olympics pushed me out of my comfort zone. I learnt a whole range of new skills and the judges’ feedback encouraged me to push on and take part in more competitions. It gives you a buzz, and you just want more!
“Being part of an experienced team of chefs allows you to draw on their knowledge and guidance — with everyone sharing hints and tips and helping each other, it really develops your own skills. All of the chefs in the team looked out for each other during the long hours it takes to put these entries together, especially when plating up the dishes and getting ready to put your entries in to the show.”