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LIVE: Black boxes – Treat or Trick

Tuesday, 12/06/2016 07:24
This morning, Dec 6th 2016, 15 excellent teams had gathered at Military zone 7 Gymnastic (HCMC) to compete the championship of TGSA 2016. Who would encode the black box and conquer the jury to win the highest place?

15 teams from all over the country had early arrived at the venue. Many candidates obviously showed their anxiety before coming in the final round.

At 7:45am sharp, 15 ingredient black boxes were picked and carried back to the Gymnastic by professional judge Trieu Thi Choi, Nutrition expert Dao Thi Yen Phi, and Deputy chief of the contest Ly Huy Sang. Final teams balloted to get a random black box.

Chef Huynh Dang Tuyen (Thanh Phat restaurant – Dak Lak province) has been in the final round 3 times. Even though he had won the Potential Young Chefs 2014, he was afraid, “This year, all team are pretty much even and more talented while the contest itself has new things, too. The black boxes are gonna be different and we have no idea what to do yet.”

Chef Vu Van Thanh, The Golden Spoon 2015’s champion said, “What is in the black box really doesn’t matter. You just have to prepare your own idea ahead.”

15 teams from all over the country had early arrived at the venue. Many candidates obviously showed their anxiety before coming in the final round.

At 7:45am sharp, 15 ingredient black boxes were picked and carried back to the Gymnastic by professional judge Trieu Thi Choi, Nutrition expert Dao Thi Yen Phi, and Deputy chief of the contest Ly Huy Sang. Final teams balloted to get a random black box.

Nelly Gocheva - New York Times' T Brand Studio editor said, “I enjoyed the performance of the Vietnamese chefs. They were all quite professional and organized. What I liked the most, was the use of fresh produce and the abundance of flavors."

Nelly Gocheva - New York Times' T Brand Studio editor (right).

All teams were excited to open the black boxes in the final roun:

The result is as following:

Team 1 – Nhi restaurant: box #2, with lolot peppers, black tiger prawns, Lang fish (Hemibagrus), and beef tenderloin.

Team 2 – Thang Loi restaurant and wedding center: box #1, with lobsters, kaffir lime leaves, lotus seeds, squids, and pork loin.

Team 4 – La Veranda Phu Quoc: box #4, with cloves, squids, sturgeon, mangoes, and beef tenderloin.

Team 16 – Binh Quoi 1 resort: box #3, with salmon, moringa, duck breast, aloe vera, and black tiger prawns

Team 31 – Sea Link City: box #7, with sturgeon, duck breast, Sau fruits ( Dracontomelon duperreanum), white button mushroom (Agaricus bisporus), strawberries, and black tiger prawns.

Team 34 – Palace Vung Tau hotel: box #9, with fresh hibiscus, basil leaves, Lang fish, and beef tenderloin.

Team 44 – Thanh Phat restaurant: box #14, with green shell mussels, Lang fish, pork paste and beef tenderloin.

Team 45 – Gia Bao 79 restaurant: box #8, with Lang fish, lamp ribs, black tiger prawns, pork, and lotus seeds.

Team 52 – Cam Thanh restaurant: box #6, with tuna, beef shank, and green shell mussels.

Team 62 – Indochine Palace Hue: box #13, with lobsters, beef tenderloins, squids, and strawberries.

Team 73 – InterContinental Da Nang: box #5, with lobsters, Cach leaves (Premna serratifolia), chicken, and frogs.

Team 76 – Crowne Plaza Da Nang: box #11, with sturgeon, black tiger prawns, and beef tenderloin

Team 77 – Naman Retreat Resort Da Nang: box #15, with lobsters and sea crabs.

Team 81 – Muong Thanh Lao Cai Hotel: box #10, with Lolot leaves, beef tenderloin, black tiger prawns, and green shell mussels

Team 103 – Hilton Hanoi hotel: box #12, with cob, black tiger prawns, salmon, and lamp ribs.

All teams quickly made their menus up. Some discussions were exalted and some were quiet, in contrary. Chefs must build an adequate menu, using all given ingredients. They have to invest their best creativity to distinguish their dishes from others since the chosen ingredients are very much similar in each box.

After the black box had been unveiled, chef Nguyen Duc Hoang (Gia Bao 79 restaurant – Kon Tum province) shared, “The last two rounds, we all used our regional ingredients because we have advantages, and we also want to introduce local dishes. However, the final round is all about ability. We’ve got lamp. This is the first time we’ve deal with it but we’re enough confident.”

Their 4-courses menu carried a topic of Family, which included Loc Vung flowers salad, lamp ribs in garlic sauce and mustard, Lang fish with fresh turmeric and fermented rice, pandan leaf cake filled lotus seeds and purple yam.

3 female chefs from Nhi restaurant (Can Tho city) were quite confident in the final round with their fan club. Right after opening the black box #2, the team comfortably planned their menu with 4 courses as Shrimp salad, Fried pork paste served with tips of coconut-tree, Lang fish and sour turmeric, and Grilled beef served with grilled yams, gourd, and egg plants. Team leader Phan Thi Hong Nhi confidentally shared, “It’s a piece of cake.”

Naman Retreat Resort balloted and got the black box #15 with lobsters, blue crabs, frog, and chicken. Chef Nguyen Quoc Hoang said that his team was fine dealing with those ingredients since they were familiar.

La Veranda Phu Quoc team got the black box #4, which contained all common ingredients as sturgeon, beef tenderloin, squids, and mangoes. They comfortably decided what would be in the menu, which were sturgeon soup with fermented rice, E leaves and squid salad, sautéed beef tenderloin in lemongrass sauce - served with lotus seeds and mushroom, and mango cake.

While some team were so confident, others were at sixes and sevens when their secret ingredients were unveiled.

Hilton Honoi Opera had planned to build a “full of Christmas” menu in the final round so they were quite confused when receiving 2 kinds of seafood. However, chef Nguyen Anh Tu still decided to go as planning.

“We believe we’ll make a renotivation with a Christmas menu from Vietnamese seafood”, confidently said chef Anh Tu.

In the contrary, Thang Loi 1 restaurant and Wedding center team was anxious with lobster, their shortage.

Chef Vo Kim Sang planned to cook this high-class seafood with red wine while squids would had been combined with pork and tip of coconut tree to make salad. They had won the 1st prize in preliminary so they thought they could complete this challenge.

Muong Thanh Lao Cai hotel’s chefs, who flight here from the furthest zone, balloted and got #10 black box, which contained black tiger prawns, blue crabs, durian, Australian beef, pork paste, and Lolot leaves. From the given ingredients, a menu had come with great dishes as Salad prawns and pomelo, Lolot leaves rolled prawn paste, Green shell mussels curry, Grilled beef tenderloin in fermented soybean sauce – served with purple yam and fresh vegetables, pumpkin and durian dessert.

Right after opened, 45 chefs and sellers in traditional costume of the Southwest really heated the atmosphere up.

Busy and exalted, the farm market quickly ran out of stock. Some teams naively took decorative bushes of lemongrass or even decorative pots of flowers in their rush.

Some teams, in the other hand, carefully chose special spices to enrich the traditional flavors of their menus.

Lead of team 77 is still confident and calm as his normal expressions while lead of team 16 is performing leader’s capacity when clearly and specifically ordering his colleagues what to do. The only female chef in final round has been exalted as her figure whereas lead of Gia Bao 79 restaurant simply focuses on his work.

Some teams, in the other hand, carefully chose special spices to enrich the traditional flavors of their menus. Will secret ingredients in black boxes be their steps leading to the championship or obstacles against their successful summit?

While candidates rushed to collect necessary spices and side ingredients, “Chef of the century” Eckart Witzigmann was so excited looking at exotic leaves and fruits, which were displayed in the farm market.

Judge Trieu Thi Choi thought that the secret ingredients couldn’t challenge really able chefs.

Judge Bui Thi Suong said, “We have raised the difficult level up this year but the most important things are still adaptability, flexibility, and creativity.”

Logical teamwork was appreciated in this situation, in which every chef should have taken his/her advantage and finished it thoroughly. They also had to match their menu with the ration to take enough amounts from the farm market. Any excessive ingredients would make them lose their total points.

Totally different from last rounds, final teams would not allow to prepare ingredients or ideal menus. The black box challenge should be the most effective standard to evaluate the success. Mr. Ly Huy Sang, Deputy General Director of Minh Long I company and Deputy chief of the contest, gave more information, “Placing the chefs under passive conditions is how we test their whole skills. In certain given time, they have to perform their best of skills, techniques, mindsets, and plan a reasonable tactic to win. The champion should prove his/her profession, techniques, and confidence of progressive chefs in integrative period. Fire proves gold, adversity proves men.”

8:00am – The Golden Spoon farm market has opened

After all black boxes had been opened, teams have had 90 minutes to brainstorm their menus and to shop in farm market. The Golden Spoon farm market displays all necessary products and spices, supporting the secret black box to complete a 4-courses menu. How to use secret ingredients and how to pick the right addictive ingredients in the farm market are the most important steps to show courage and talents of the chefs.

The Golden Spoon farm market this year was constructed as a mini-sized of Vietnamese countryside, such as lotus pond, horse riding car, corn fields, and flower boats by artisans from Binh Quoc 1 resort. The market provides spice section, fresh meat section (meat and seafood), vegetable section, and grocery section, which are all necessary stuff collected through 4 years journey of The Golden Spoon. Adequate preparation and abundant supplies are the most useful support from the Organization for final teams.

Once the open signal flashed, all teams rushed to pick their necessary ingredients. Exaltation rang in the air just as a real countryside market. The only difference was that buyers were not normal housewives but all professional chefs from famous restaurants/hotels from all over Viet Nam. The similarity among secret ingredients reminded the chefs to considerably pick what they need if they wanted to differentiate their menu from others. After given time, the farm market would close and would not let any chef taking more products. However, excessive ingredients will be a subtraction on their total point.

10 a.m - Preparation started

After listing necessary ingredients and spices, candidates took what they need and came back their kiosks. At 10:00am the Golden Spoon farm market was close. Most of sections ran out of stocks, meaning all chefs really knew what they needed to build a unique menu. Hopefully with similar primitive ingredients, 15 teams would bring 15 vibrant and robust party tables to strict jury of The Golden Spoon 2016.

Processing stage was 90 minutes sharp. During this time, chefs prepared ingredients (washing, cleaning, slicing and so on), divided them into exact portions, planed cooking tactic, and decorated their party tables. However, they were not allowed to marinate ingredients or to cook.

The final round of The Golden Spoon 2016 welcomed 15 teams, in which big cities as Ha Noi capital or Ho Chi Minh city had one representative of each while Da Nang city had 3. The numbers really proves that Da Nang chefs have not only caught modern trends but also wanted to pull up the tourism potential at this coastal city of Viet Nam.

Chef Huu Hau from team 73 – Intercontinental Sun Peninsula Resort Da Nang – has caught trendy molecular gastronomy with sous vide equipment while Hue chefs have been loyal to their royal style. Indochine Palace Hue’s party table was outstanding with seasonal decoration to match up coming Christmas spirit. Properly chef Cuong wanted to blow a European winter breath to his antique Phu Xuan citadel. He crafted illustrative citadels himself from recycled paper wrap to re-build the former capital. The antique deep image of Vietnamese citadels elevated their displayed party table to an artwork.

Lead of team 76 – Crowne Plaza Danang – chef Dinh Duy Binh was not any less creative. He used lanterns as holding shelves for his dishes as the message, “Our team want to perform the soul and the heart of Hoi An – Da Nang. The layers of dishes and bowls symbolize our Ngu Hanh Son (Marble mountains), the figure of my homeland. Being at The Golden Spoon contest, I’m longing for the development of Da Nang city.”

On the other hand, team 77 – Naman Retreat Resort Da Nang – chose rural images to perform on their party table. Chef Hoang had cut fresh bamboo tube himself one day before the final round to decorate his dishes.

While candidates were busy preparing, audiences in Military Zone 7 Gymnastic also heated up the atmosphere with cute cheering, which really helped anxious chefs to release their tense. “Daddy, come on!”, shouted a boy from the stand, whose son of chef Nguyen Huu Hau from team 73 – InterContinental Da Nang. The naïve boy not only made the whole stand friendlier but also cheered his dad up a lot.

Team 1 – Nhi restaurant from O Mon, Can Tho city, also had many supporters from Binh Loi biking club. This was the only team in the final round, which included 3 family female members. Their love for biking is as much as for cooking.

Nhi restaurant has persuaded the judges and audiences by their relentless learning and processive mindset. They had participated The Golden Spoon contest since 2014 but had not found their luck yet. This year, they determined to play hard and flight all the way to Ha Noi to observe the northern semi-final round. Studying from competitors, digesting new experiences, and rebirthing their own tactic were smart steps leading Nhi restaurant to the final round. Moreover, they also contacted The Golden Spoon’s last champions to learn all tricky tips, valuable experiences, and even decoration. Their honesty and strong will were really admirable.

11:30 a.m – Processing

Rush atmosphere in the gymnastic had gotten hotter since “Chef of the century” Mr. Eckart Witzigmann walked in. This was the first time 3-star Michelin chef being in The Golden Spoon contest to watch Vietnamese chefs performance. This great Germany chef confirmed that whoever won this contest would have a significant chance to thrive.

Meeting with final teams in Dec 5th evening, Mr. Eckart shared his personal viewpoints, “Besides career skills and creativity, I really appreciate humor of chefs. You should feel interested in communicating to humorists. Likewise, chefs with humor will cook attractive dishes.”

In the final round, The Golden Spoon contest 2016 had also invited other international experts, including Mr. Norbert Ehrbar – Vice Chairman of Sai Gon professional Chefs Association, Mr. Sakal Phoeung – Chairman of Vietnamese Escoffier Association, Mr. Paul Le – Vice President of Retailer Support Group from Central Retailer Corporation, super chef Marco Brueschweiler – Operation Director of Service Consulting Thai Cuisine company, and super chef David Thai.

To focus on exploiting secret ingredients yet to build meaningful stories around the menu, chef Nguyen Van Thanh from Lotte Ha Noi hotel, who was champion of The Golden Spoon 2015, shared his own experiences to new candidates in Gala Dinner. Who would continue to write interesting stories about Vietnamese cuisine this year? Let’s wait for their performance.

12:00 p.m – Accurate menus and Delicious Dishes

To be in the final round, these 15 teams had gone through 2 challenging rounds and competed 90 other teams from all over the country. Any team in the final round is definitely talented and tough. The competition got harsher when all 15 teams had the same starting point. Without preparation and with similar given ingredients, each team must show their ability in every small detail to create the best ideas, the best flavors in the best final dishes, which are the most important elements in any culinary contest.

It’s difficult to talk about their menus at the moment. Please come back after the presentation. Let’s listen to what competitive chefs introduce how they named their final works.

Indochine Palace Hue team balloted and got #13 black box with lobsters, Japanese white button mushroom, and squids. Their ideal menu had Squid salad, Sautéed lotus root, Lobster soup, and Taro cake.

Meanwhile, Sea Links City company (Binh Thuan province) got #7 black box with sturgeon, duck breast, and black tiger prawns. Chef Dao Minh Hoa planned the menu as Black tiger prawn soup with pennywort leaves, vegetables, and white button mushroom; Baked sturgeon fillet served with baked vegetables; Sautéed duck breast in fermented soybean sauce and served with black sweet-rice; and Herbal fruit dessert.

Guest judge Vu Hoang My and Trieu Thi Choi commented about preparation skills of the teams.

Born in Ha Noi, chef Hoang Thi Ngoc Anh had left her hometown for love. She moved to Lao Cai and restarted her career at Muong Thanh Lao Cai hotel. This contest was the her first time attending in a culinary contest and chef Ngoc Anh admitted that she was too nervous. However, from her own experiences, she confidently took the challenge and cooked perfect dishes.

Quickly but not hastily, main courses were gradually displayed on party tables. The heat from kitchen kiosks got hotter when some last minutes had passed.

Chef Pham Van Dai from Vung Tau Palace carefully displayed Salad of star fruit, water spinach, and crabmeat in chive sauce; and Fried tropical celery rolls.

Chef Nguyen Duc Hoang from Gia Bao 79 (Kon Tum province) carefully carried Sautéed lamp ribs in mustard and garlic sauce to displayed table. He was nervous since lamp was not his cup of tea.

Displayed tables were gradually filled up. All were waiting for the judgment of the jury.

Indochine Palace Hue brought 3 courses dessert, including Pineapple corn sweet soup, Yam cake in strawberry sauce, and Grilled cinnamon corn. Those were originally street food but elevated onto 5-star level.

Besides vegetables, some chefs also brought flowers into their dishes, such as Antigonon flowers, pagoda flowers (Styphnolobium japonicum), and peony to make salad, or sweeten rose petals in dessert.

Tropical and temperate fruits were skillfully used to enrich the taste and to balance meaty dishes.


By The Golden Spoon Award

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