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Semi-final for Northern region:

Golden Recipe: A contemporary artwork of Viet Nam cuisine

Saturday, 10/15/2016 10:04
The Northern regional semifinal of the Golden Spoon Awards, with “Golden Recipe” as the theme, is not only a fusion of Asian and European, traditional and modern gastronomies but also a convergence of audio and visual depictions of Northern and Northern Central cuisines.

The semifinal of Northern regions attracted strong and potential representatives from renowned restaurants, hotels and resorts. They were qualified from regional prelims of Northern Central, Northern Highlands, Red River Delta and Ha Noi. The chefs had created local signature recipes that harmonized with the mild weather of Ha Noi autumn. Each and every participant put effort in performing their best skills and showing their ultimate winning spirit for the grand final prize of one billion dong worth and the prestigious cup for the super chef.

High-class menu, Western style

Given the theme of Golden Recipe, all teams had the chance to demonstrate their best cooking techniques, as well as show off their “secret weapons” that had not been unveiled in the regional prelims yet. Besides those confident in their “strong suit” and personal “maneuvers”, others took up challenges with innovative recipes and cooking methods.

Battling for the very tickets to the finale, despite time constraints for preparation (only two weeks), the competing teams were very determined to win in the Golden Spoon Awards by providing well prepared menu and utilizing diverse ingredients. There were even new lavish costly ingredients hunted down from all over the world that made their debuts in this competition, such as spanner crab, wagyu beef, scallop, seaweed, octopus, Japanese soy bean, duck breast, foie gras and carneau, North African rice, cold water shrimp, Spanish pork, Italian caviar, Korean lingzhi, New Zealand lobster, stonefish, etc.

Among heavily invested menus with luxurious imported ingredients, Naman Retreat Resort Da Nang’s (Team no. 77) had held the judge panel and food lovers in awe when claimed theirs to “bring international flavors to Vietnamese dining table”, from the grand symphony of cold seafood as an entree (French lobster, Japanese octopus, Italian caviar, cold water shrimp, New Zealand mussel) to Japanese wagyu beef with French foie gras as meat main dish, and French carneau as poultry.

Aiming to “awake all senses”, Naman Retreat Resort Da Nang had brought an exceptional gastronomical experience to the judge panel. Not only did they ensure image (vision), smell (olfaction), taste (gustation) and touch (tactioception), but also offered real seashells for diners to actually listen to the sound of ocean while relishing the dish.

Besides, the team from the home of world records also creatively applied new cooking techniques. Slow-cooking was highlighted to reserve natural flavors and nutritious values of all ingredients.

Also, the semifinal of Northern regions was a race of different cooking styles and creative mindset of chefs from 4- and 5-star restaurants and hotels. Palm Garden Beach Resort & Spa Hoi An introduced the menu that they specially reserve for high-profile guests, meanwhile, the two representative teams from Hue paid tributes to long history of civilization in the royal court’s cuisine.

Last but not least, Grand Sunrise Hotel Da Nang chose to give a twist to the French mille feuille, aiming to feature Vietnamese ingredients in a popular French recipe. Team no. 103 also introduced the smoking technique using Fujian cypress to bring a new touch to Ninh Binh mountain goat dish.

Time travelling for childhood reminiscence

Beside high-class ingredients, dedicated chefs from Indochine Palace Hue, Silk Path and Duong’s Restaurant reminded Vietnamese food lovers of the natural, arcadian hometown life.

Through a looking glass to one’s childhood around a Vietnamese dinner table, there should inevitably be sponge gourde, climbing spinach, beetroot, fig, purple yam, cherimoya, ragworm cake, East Asian bullfrog, etc. Rustic recipes feature various types of homegrown, familiar vegetables and simple cooking methods, to reserve freshness of each ingredient served with lemongrass fish sauce, salted white radish or quick pickled African eggplant, which are part of indigenious Vietnamese cuisine.

By featuring salmon salad with cherimoya and beetroot, chefs from Indochine Palace Hotel Hue had upgraded cherimoya from a wild, streetside plant into a restaurant standard dish. Freshwater crab soup, sponge gourde served with quick pickled African eggplant by Duong’s Restaurant has an exotic texture and homely taste that can hardly be mistaken. Countryside-themed bullfrog cake by Grand Sunrise Hotel Da Nang had one bethink himself of his difficult childhood but full of emotional reminiscence. All promised uncanny aftertaste on the banquet table of the Golden Spoon Awards.

What’s more, the theme Ha Noi Autumn was also well handled by all chefs when applied to a number of recipes, which included not only seasonal specialties but also hue of autumnal flora and fauna to be highlighted in food presentation and decoration.

Ha Noi autumn’s ragworm cake – a familiar dish that only becomes popular during fall and, for a long time, a signature dish of Northern bucolic cuisine. Both lolot roll with fresh ragworm filling and stir-fired ragworm with Manchurian wildrice stem are all-new, hence, lesser-known recipes but contain special culinary experiences. Sabah snake grass – a wild plant, once ignored in the backyard, has abundant wonderful effects towards liver and blood pressure, which now features in both soup and cake recipes. In the meantime, teams from Hue still mainly focused on refining culinary artworks of Tam Giang giant tiger prawn, A Luoi wild bamboo shoot, lotus from Tinh Tam lake, me xung (malt and white sesame sweets), Thuy Bieu loquat cake, fried lotus spring roll, etc.

During the semifinal of Northern regions, the most exciting thing for the judge panel and food lovers was the use of cacti in cooking by Crowne Plaza Danang Hotel and Hue Century Hotel. Cactus – a symbol of endurance and patience of the people from white sand areas, is heat dispelling ingredient for backache and arthritis.

Cactus salad is popular with Quang Nam people, which has featured in the recipe of pigeon cake in golden bag stuffed with cactus salad and Tam Giang shrimp by Hue Century Hotel. Cactus is used to cook with grouper fillet, and served with lotus rice to make a refreshing and elegantly tasty combination. Sharing the same inspiration, Crowne Plaza Danang utilized cactus for their entrée of cactus salad, featuring scallop, fish maw and crab claw, while the fruit is used for making sauce served with lemon cold cake.

Condiments following Vietnamese culinary philosophy

Not only focused on cooking methods, chefs competing in the Golden Spoon Awards embedded their dedication and wu xing philosophy into every dish. Chefs from Duong’s Restaurant showed their profound understanding of Vietnamese culture when had bamboo stalks as ornaments. Specially, black rice wine beef stew is a new recipe invented by Chef Hoang Van Duong, which mostly used local spices and herbs to season.

Dessert is also the land of creativity for all types of sweet indulgence. Banh troi nuoc (rice flour ball with mung bean paste filling) and banh gai (ramie cake wrapped in banana leaf) are vivid examples of wu xing in coloring and seasoning which harmonized trio-elements of scent – taste – hue. Different types of Ha Noi tradition sweets, which are banh bac (fried rice cake stuffed with mung bean paste), banh gac (cochinchin gourd cake), banh manh cong (sabah snake grass cake). They are recipes which feature glutinous rice flour, mung bean, cochinchin gourd and sabah snake grass which are sweetly seasoned to taste with an uncluttered presentation. Banh chuoi (banana cake) reminded a cozy sense of being home in a deep down corner of one’s heart; because however far he may go, he will return to where he started.

Deeply appreciating the variety of Vietnam-based herbs and spices, two teams from Northern highlands packed up selected mountain herbal specialties in their baggage. Dung Tan restaurant team performed their strength with recipes featuring assorted garcinia fruit, licorice weed and randia leaf, which are considered valuable medicinals. Muong Thanh Lao Cai Hotel, on the other hand, crafted a menu highlighting ethnic nuances such as highland pork steamed with assorted wild leaves whose steaming stock consisted of pear, apple, galangal, coconut, chilli, pandan leaf, etc. Cham cheo is Northwestern-styled condiment made of local ingredients, such as sichuan pepper and assorted chilli peppers with their typical spiciness. Likewise, vegetable fern, originated from mountainous areas, is a special ingredient for salad recipe, served as a side dish of Seng Cu rice to help boost flavors and work up the appetite.

Hawthorn and doi seed cake is a signature dish of Hilton Hanoi Opera Hotel. Fruit of hawthorn tree, also known as thornapple, is a specialty of ethnic villages. Hilton team had cleverly combined the aroma and astringency of the fruit, together with doi seed, which is regularly used in main course, to reduce unpleasant odor.

During the award presentation, besides granting the prize of 50 million dong worth for the winning team of Naman Retreat Resort Da Nang (Team no. 77), the jugde panel also gave five prizes for first runner-ups with 40 million dong each as follow:

·         Hue Indochine Palace Hotel (Team no. 62)

·         Muong Thanh Lao Cai Hotel (Team no. 81)

·         Hilton Hanoi Opera Hotel (Team no. 103)

·         InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort (Team no. 73)

·         Crowne Plaza Danang (Team no. 76)

By The Golden Spoon Award

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