As medal hauls go, the Compass team's collection at this year's Hotelympia Salon Culinaire was pretty impressive. Competing in some 48 classes, the team won 194 awards, including eight bests in show and 27 bests in class. In total, the Compass team members took home 49 golds.
Of course, one of Compass's advantages is that it has a vast pool of very good chefs to choose from. In the light of such supremacy, Caterer thought the most sporting thing its team could do was share a little of their competition know-how with the rest of you.
We therefore asked Nick Vadis, captain of the winning Compass team in La Parade des Chefs, to reveal the three recipes and the secrets which helped win his team the title of best in show this year (pages 31, 33 and 34). Then we added three more recipes from the team for good measure (page 36). Six recipes to ensure competition success, if you like.
The key to a winning dish, says Vadis, is to keep it simple. "Because taste is the most important factor," he says, "if you try to wow the judges with bells and whistles and something goes wrong, underneath you are left with nothing."
Simplicity also means practicality. "The biggest pitfall is trying to do too much in too little time," he adds.
Vadis also recommends that chefs focus on delivering big, concentrated flavours. "Often," he says, "the judges will only take one spoonful to taste, so you've got to hit them with all the flavour at once."
Be careful not to take too much equipment into the kitchen either, and avoid using anything that you're not completely comfortable with. "You get no extra marks for gadgetry," says Vadis. At the same time, he says, make sure you bring everything you need - the
sight of chefs running around stands at Hotelympia trying to blag missing bits of kit is all too common.
Make sure you also check the equipment provided. Vadis recalls: "This year, fortunately, we checked the size of the fridges the night before, and found we couldn't fit some of our containers in." Containers were duly swapped and the problem solved.
Finally, it's crucial that every team member can do everyone else's job in the La Parade kitchen. "You have to be even more flexible than you'd be in your own kitchen," Vadis says. "If you see someone in the corner having problems, there are a hundred covers to serve, so you can't just leave them floundering."
For Vadis, who is normally Compass's executive chef at British Airways, winning the competition this year was especially satisfying, because it was his final year as team captain. "After competing in it five or six times, this was a good note to go out on," he says. "It's nice that it all came together."
The Compass team
Nick Vadis, executive chef, British Airways, Waterside, Heathrow
Outgoing team captain Vadis started his career with the Royal Navy. Working for Compass, Vadis moved to British Airways in 2001, and now runs all staff catering there. Vadis has twice been a finalist in the National Chef of the Year award. In 2004, he was named the Craft Guild of Chefs Contract Catering Chef of the Year.
Gary Hancock, executive development chef, Chartwells
Hancock enjoyed a long career with the Royal Navy before joining Compass's ESS division. He has led the UK Combined Services Culinary Arts Team and now works for Compass's private education catering arm, Chartwells.
Mark Fitzmaurice, general manager, UBS Investment Bank
Fitzmaurice now works at UBS Investment Bank. In 2001, he was named the Craft Guild of Chefs Contract Catering Chef of the year.
Bernhard Engelhardt, operations manager, Circadia
Engelhardt joined Circadia in 2002. He has competed for the Craft Guild of Chefs team as well as the Compass team, and has been a
semi-finalist in National Chef of the Year.
Andy Twells, general manager, SAP UK
After seven years with the RAF, Twells is now responsible for hospitality at SAP. He is a member of both the Compass and Craft Guild of Chefs teams.
Steve Taylor, executive chef, Eurest England and Wales
Taylor worked as executive chef for Granada Television before joining the Compass team in 1998. He was crowned Compass Chef of the Year for 2003.