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The Silent Ambassadors of Vietnamese Cuisine

Tuesday, 12/29/2015 14:11
Without those eager eyes, sweat and tears made by many chefs throughout the three regions, the 2015 Golden Spoons 2015 wouldn’t succeed...

The 2015 Golden Spoon contest winner was the Lotte Hotel Hanoi team, taking home the coveted prize of VND 1 billion. They wish to write to the other contestants, considering them as silent ambassadors, promoting Vietnamese cuisine through the long journey of the contest. They have all successfully and vividly demonstrated their profession and passion for authentic Vietnamese dishes.

And, they are all young chefs!

1-With a shy and passionate look Chef Tran Thi Khuyen – a member of Thao Ngoan Wedding Restaurant team in Dong Nai - makes a roll of colorful rice noodle, and has attracted a journalist who is passionate in writing about cuisine. To him, that look is the look of a chef who has fallen in love with her profession.

Chef Khuyen Thi Tran

The passion was evident, and he came to know that this young chef in her 30’s chased after Mr. Cuong Thinh Tran and begged him to allow her to attend the Golden Spoon contest, even though her team had only two participants. The guidelines of the contest stipulate that teams must have three members.

The slender noodles are made of many colors - black (stained ash bamboo), blue (from green tea leaves), red (from “Gac” fruit), violet (magenta plant) - under professional and talented hands were wrapped around bamboo chopsticks. This is a side dish served with rice-noodle soup cooked with “củ chóc”, chicken and green soursop; one of the four dishes Ms. Khuyen presented in the southern region semi-final round on October 28, 2015. It was particularly delicious, as it always will be when cooked by a dedicated chef who loves her craft.

Dedicated Chefs create stories of their culture through delicious dishes in the final round of the 2015 Golden Spoon contest.

In the challenging “Secret Ingredients” final round on December 2nd Ms. Khuyen faced the challenging “Black Box”, and we again saw her dedication and leadership. She coordinated and worked well within the team through delegating appropriately. She created a unique menu that included dishes inspired by legends, and helped the chefs from Dong Nai win second prize; awarded the category of food nutrition.

2.  The third edition of the Golden Spoon contest was a journey to discover and promote Vietnam’s delicacies, not to mention the spectacular introductions and contributions of the chefs. The “bông giờ” flower – plain in appearance, but after a heavy rain its yellow and purple colors sparkle - from the Central region is one example. Nguyen Cong Tru (32 years), represented Yasaka Huong Sen (Phu Yen province) were excited to present to the judges the dish of shark fin and melon served with “Bông giờ” flower in the “Golden Dish” semi-final round. “It is firm and almost crunchy, but not fishy,” complimented artist and judge Kim Xuan. In the preliminary round Mr. Tru’s team also introduced a chicken hot spot cooked with first-time ingredient shiny-leaf prickly-ash.

Chef Tru Cong Nguyen

With 16 years of culinary experience chef  Tru Cong Nguyen started cooking while at school in a part-time job to cover his tuition. His passion grew along with him and he decided to travel to Ho Chi Minh City and enroll in a course to become a chef. After graduation he stayed in HCM to look for a job, wanting to gain more experience. After two years he came back to his hometown.

On the day of the semi-final Chef Cong Tru only just recovered from illness. It was a long trip from the central region to Ho Chi Minh for the contest, and he was visibly tired and distracted during the two hour cooking process. But his dedication and mouthwatering food from Phu Yen province won him the second prize. Though he did not take home the top prize, his spirits were still high. He said, “Next year the dish will be more modern and unique in both flavor and presentation. You will see.”  

3.  Equally disappointed was the team from Hilton Hanoi Opera, led by Chef Cong Thuong Tran (27 years), also not making it past the semi-final round. “It was sad. It seemed everything was against you,” shared Chef Cong. Even though the team is from Ho Chi Minh City, they still woke up at 4:00 am to prepare all ingredients and tools and head to the contest hall. Feeling nervous and worried, they came a little bit earlier to have more time to prepare. But while they were setting up the electricity was cut off unexpectedly and they had to use their phones as lights to find their way.

Chef Cong Thuong Tran

Moreover, while Chef Cong Thuong Tran was working diligently, it seemed his his two assistants were frozen; paralyzed with worry. Chef Cong understood that many young chefs wouldn’t be able to deal with their nerve at a big contest like this. Chef Cong said he couldn’t sleep for two nights thereafter. “After the contest was finished I went to take a shower and cried unexpectedly! Although feeling disappointed, I was still satisfied because I could meet and compete with so many famous and experienced chefs,” shared Chef Cong. The lessons that Chef Cong learned is that you must first challenge yourself and try to learn new skills for presenting and displaying the dishes. 

Although he didn’t win the top prize, he found back his life balance quickly through his love for cooking and jumping back into daily life. When asked if wants to enter the 2016 contest he answered optimistically, “Why not?”

4. Another young and passionate chef was Chef Tuan Quoc Do of Red Dao Restaurant, Sapa. Running a business in a tourist city, Chef Toan has enough opportunity to perform as well as introduce refined highland cuisine to tourists enthusiastically. He also came to this contest with a desire to win and showcase his regional ingredients. He prepared many foods that were modified from new and unique spices, such as the sticky rice flower, “ô dây” tree, “thắng cố” tree, each traditional spices of H’mong people plus “hạt dổi” or “mắc khén”, typical spices of the Northwest provinces. His team traveled from Sapa to Hanoi two days early so they could carry many kinds of typical and spices to cook a slightly modified version of “thắng cố” dish. However, feedback from the judges was about communication and the dish’s presentation. While Chef Toan had regrets about not making it to the final round, he acknowledged that he had learnt many useful lessons from the contest. His happiest feeling was about being able to promote Northern Highland cuisine as well as show such rare and unique spices to the diners.

Chef Toan Quoc Do

Ms. Van Thi Bach Tuyet, director of HCMC Department of Tourism and guest judge of the contest remarked,: "I feel the young chefs who came to this contest are very enthusiastic, energetic, creative, dedicated ... you are the ambassadors Vietnamese cuisine!"

Nguyen Van Tuan, general director of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism reaffirmed, "The contest was organized so as to be very professional, full of enthusiasm and persistent. Spreading the contest across three regions helped us to find the typical dishes in each throughout the country. It also inspired the desire to introduce and promote cuisine as part of the Vietnam’s tourism to friends, tourists and especially international travelers. Additionally, Vietnam’s cuisine will add wind to the sails of our country’s tourism."

On the evening of March 12, 2015, the organizers have awarded the first prize of the Golden Spoon Chef Cup and the grand prize of VND 1 billion for Lotte Hotel Hanoi team. Four teams won the second prize, respectively in four categories, including: Sofitel Plaza Hanoi team for creative dishes; Ngoan Thao Wedding restaurant - Dong Nai team in for food nutrition; Continental Hotel Ho Chi Minh City team for food presentation; Kim Do Hotel Ho Chi Minh City team for rustic and traditional home-style food. The Golden Spoon contest with a total prize of more than VND 3 billion organized by Minh Long I Co. Ltd and financed by Ly's Horeca, under support of two units of the Chamber of Commerce - Industry Vietnam (VCCI ) and the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism.

 Written by Tan Trung - Photo T.D

(According to Nguoi Do Thi Newspaper)

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