For many visitors to Hospitality 2013, the chance to see some of the UK's leading chefs go head to head live will steal the show. Tom Vaughan explains what to expect
Like a seared fillet of beef at the centre of a top-end dish, for the majority of chefs the Salon is the headline act of the Hospitality Show. Sure, there might be an intriguing seminar here or a good-looking workshop there, but for many the appeal of seeing some of the UK and Europe's best chefs go head to head, live steals the show.
Hospitality 2013 promises to be no different, with 60 competitions classes spread across the Live Theatre and Salon Display, plus the best of the best competing in La Parade des Chefs. Mark Hill, executive chef at the House of Commons, has been competing since 1987 and explains why: "Ask any chef why they return and they will tell you that they want to be known as the best in their field. It's a huge sense of pride and achievement when you are up against the very best in the industry at such an event. To be crowned a champion in your class not only is a reward in itself, it adds a level of competency and expertise to a chef's profile and makes you particularly attractive to a future employer."
The Live Theatre The all-action spectacle of the Salon Culinaire, the Live Theatre witnesses teams go head to head in a series of live cook-offs, with categories ranging from classical fish dishes to football stadia dining.
Highlights include the Rational seasonal menu masterclass, where chefs are allowed one hour to prepare, cook and present two portions of starter using any under-utilised, sustainable fish and two main courses using seasonal ingredients, and the Lexington food service challenge, which requires chefs to cook and present two portions of main course with a total cost of under £5, in just 30 minutes.
Chefs are judged on working methods, culinary skills, presentation, correct portion size, taste, flavours, timing and temperature, and satisfying every one of these is no mean feat, says Hill, who over the years has won the grand prix prize both as an individual and as part of a team.
"At an international level such as this it can take many years of hard work to achieve success," he adds. "The challenge is to display or enter something that is either unique or has a twist which grabs the imagination, that will also delivers great flavours and combinations and pushes the boundaries within the competition criteria. To achieve success you need to anticipate and determine the reaction of the judges."
The Salon Display Those keen to sate their bellies in style should head to La Parade des Chefs, but those after a feast for the eyes know where to go - the Salon Display. Featuring everything from intricately decorated plates, platters and petit fours to elaborate works of fat and sugar, the Display â¨is the real craftsman's corner of the Salon â¨Culinaire, with chefs preparing their entries prior to the show before bringing them in to compete.
Take the sugarcraft section alone - the competition categories include decorated celebration cake, novelty cake, wedding cake, floral sugarcraft and corsage. Judging for such showpieces is based on creativity, workmanship, degree of difficulty and presentation.
For the platters and plates, a wander through the Display might take in categories such as presentations of fish and crustecea or game and meat, or elaborate starters, mains and desserts, all judged on presentation and innovation, composition, culinary preparation and practical serving.
La Parade des Chefs This year, three of the UK's most renowned competition teams will fight it out for the title of the Best of the Best at La Parade des Chefs and, with each team having to cook 100 three-course meals for the public, the good news is that those visitors savvy enough to book a table ahead of the show can see just why these teams are at the top of their game. The showdown will feature the House of Commons Team cooking on Monday 21 January, the Elior Culinary Team cooking on Tuesday 22 January and the Compass Group Culinary Team cooking on Wednesday 23 January.
Hayden Groves, executive group chef at BaxterStorey, has competed at La Parade in previous years and says that those peering in to watch the competing teams should be under no illusions as to difficulty of the task in hand.
"Having to bring together a brigade of five chefs, one porter and a team manager, parachute them into a glass kitchen the size of a squash court and cook three restaurant-style plates for 100 covers from limited mis en place in four-and-a-half hours - that in itself is a challenge, but you have the visitors to the show watching and four judges and two environmental health officers analysing everything you do from a craft and food safety perspective," he says. "It takes a certain mindset to temper the nerves and focus on the job in hand. After all of that, the menu needs to be a balance of creativity without ever forgetting the most important aspect - it needs to deliver on taste."
And luckily for those of you with tables booked, the stress levels can stay inside of that squash court-sized kitchen. All you need focus on is the delivery of a top-notch menu.
Monday menu House of Commons team
â- British crab and cucumber with a toasted brown-crab sandwich
â- Slow-cooked Gressingham duck with rich duck liver, gem sprouts, piccolo parsnips and natural jus
â- Bitter chocolate mousse, passion gel and almond sponge
Tuesday menu Elior team
â- Citrus and dill cured sea trout with crispy scallop and orange and fennel
â- Launceston lamb three ways with "cabbage and bacon" and thyme baked beets
â- Banana cheesecake with warm sticky date pudding and salted peanut ice-cream
Wednesday menu Compass Group team
â- Grilled fillet of red mullet, seafood arancini, piperade, fennel and white bean purée, Nantua sauce
â- Head to toe of suckling pig with hazelnuts, cauliflower and carrots
â- Baked chocolate mousse, sea buckthorn, Brazil nut sorbet
â- Port infused clementine