If you read my column regularly you know that I am fascinated by the growing culinary culture in this country, and in the region in general. Even if you don’t, you will not have failed to notice the rapidly expanding and increasingly sophisticated food and beverage industry, the explosive growth in food coverage, not only in magazines and newspapers but also in online publications, on Facebook and on Twitter, and the appearance of new cooking shows and food channels. Following the trauma of the revolution half the population is experiencing the urge to become more pious, but all the other half wants to do is to eat, drink and be merry.
This month more evidence of the rise of foodism comes in the form of Cairo’s second annual amateur cooking competition, co-sponsored by TheGiftery.com and Casper & Gambini’s. It was the first of its kind in Egypt and the Middle East last year, and this year’s event is going to be bigger and better. And it has now begun. “Gifted Chef 2: Recipe for Fame” is on, the first entries are coming in, and if you feel you have got what it takes it is time to put on your kitchen apron, because the deadline is 15 May.
Here is how it works. First, and generally important in any chef’s competition, you need to know how to cook. Second, you need to write up your recipe. Third, you need to prepare it, take some photos of your dish, and send them in. No baking is allowed, but other than that, anything goes. Breakfast, dessert, lunch; Thai, Mexican, seafood, vegetarian; simple or fancy: whatever you’re into is fine, but it has to be done with love, and it has to be good enough to be served in a restaurant, because the two winning dishes will be featured for a month on the menus of all three Caspar & Gambini’s restaurants in Cairo, which is very cool. The only catch is, if you make it into the finals, which will be held live at Casper & Gambini’s City Stars outlet, you have to be able to prepare the dish in twenty minutes. Easy peasy as Jamie Oliver would say. If your friends and family keep telling you that you ought to open your own restaurant, here is a chance to test your mettle.
My advice on this is as follows. Choose the freshest ingredients you can find, and don’t mess them up. And don’t over-complicate things. Creativity and originality count. So does plating. And of course it has to taste phenomenal. And since I am one of the judges this year, you would do well to heed that advice. My fellow judges are Mark Khalife, Managing Director at International Restaurants Group (Casper & Gambini’s, Zeitouna Lebanese Bistro, and the soon-to-open Scoop ice cream shop), local chef and restaurant consultant Sarah Khanna, and the CEO of Gourmet Egypt, Jalal Abu Ghazaleh. In addition to getting your creations featured on the C & G menu, there are prizes from The Giftery as well as Gourmet Egypt, Eklego and others. I hear a Weber Grill is up for grabs.
My other piece of advice is that this thing is starting to take off and as it does, there will be more and more entries in the years to come. So if you are so inclined to cook your way to fame and fortune, go for it this year. Your odds will never be so good. You can find the rules and submission details for the competition on Facebook pages of the sponsors. Who knows? It might just be your first step towards becoming a master chef. In all cases it will be fun. The finals are on 25 May. Hope to see you there.