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Hungary for culinary success
Five amateur expat chefs took to the kitchen last month for a cook-off that showed Belgian cuisine is about much more than frites, chocolate and waffles. Hungarian Pal Milkovics, 33, was crowned the winner of this culinary joust, wowing the jury with his Belgo-Hungarian dish of beef goulash and fending off stiff competition from the other four finalists.
The BE European Cooking Contest was launched two months ago by 5T Communications to raise the profile of the Belgian terroir – meaning local and seasonal produce – among the international community in Brussels. The objective was to discover how a ‘hobby cook’ with non-Belgian roots would prepare a dish using typical Belgian ingredients, thus adding a European touch to the local cuisine.
The competition was open to civil servants from the EU institutions, expatriates working in and around Brussels and members of the EU and international press. BE Café Marché Jourdan, at the Sofitel Brussels Europe hotel in the city’s European quarter, makes good use of the Belgian terroir and works closely with the suppliers at the next-door Place Jourdan market. Chef Marc Pâquet regularly revisits the Belgian cuisine, giving it a contemporary twist.
At the contest’s preliminary round in March, more than 20 candidates joined the organisers despite the snowy weather to visit the market and meet the jury of chefs, restaurateurs and food journalists. The would-be winners had a range of motivations: some wanted to learn about Belgium’s cuisine, others wanted to find out how good their cooking really is through the eyes of professionals rather than less-than-impartial friends and family. One just wanted to beat his girlfriend at cooking (and he succeeded, as he was chosen to go through to the final). Whatever their reason, the candidates’ creativity and dedication were surprising and the jury had the difficult task of selecting only five finalists. They took into account:
- The Belgian ingredients the candidates proposed to use
- The originality of the recipe
- The presentation on the plate of the finished dish
Then, on April 28, the chosen five got to cook their dish in the professional kitchen of BE Café Marché Jourdan. Some of them started as early as 7.15, before presenting their dishes to the jury at noon. Plenty of people gathered to witness the jury inspecting, smelling and tasting the dishes, among them the unlucky participants from the first round. The atmosphere was cordial and pleasant, the jury serious and professional.
Denis De Schrevel, the hotel’s general manager and the competition host, proved to be a master commentator when introducing the finalists and their dishes. At around 13.30 the jury’s president, food writer Hughes Belin, announced the winner, who was rewarded with a Sofitel hotel weekend in a European destination. The four other finalists did not leave empty-handed: they will enjoy a dinner for two in BE Café Marché Jourdan.
The winning plate – a fusion dish of Hungarian goulash and Belgian stew – will be included on the menu of the BE Café Marché Jourdan restaurant very soon. See here for a selection of the pictures of the event and behind the scenes.
The other four finalists and their dishes
Bahri Souad, France, 27: Millefeuille of pain à la grecque, lemon and marzipan ice cream
Rémi Praud, France, 26: Supreme of quail stuffed with green boudin
Sakib Ershad, UK, 27: Gourmet cheeseburger melt
Eva Prestigiacomo, Italy, 34: Sweet Brussels sprouts