EVENT REVIEW: Hilton's F&B masters

Louise Oakley reports on the 2012 culinary competition in Abu Dhabi
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The judges had to assess the service as well as the food.
The judges had to assess the service as well as the food.
The Hilton Abu Dhabi team with their black box ingredients: Prakash Parajuli, Anoop Chandra, Vinay Kumar Vishnoi and Praveen Kumar.
The Hilton Abu Dhabi team with their black box ingredients: Prakash Parajuli, Anoop Chandra, Vinay Kumar Vishnoi and Praveen Kumar.
The Hilton judges Essam Abouda, vice president ? operations, Hilton Worldwide, Arabian Peninsula; Christian Grage, vice president, operations, Egypt & Levant; Jan Vanderputten, vice president, operations, Africa & Indian Ocean; cast their votes.
The Hilton judges Essam Abouda, vice president ? operations, Hilton Worldwide, Arabian Peninsula; Christian Grage, vice president, operations, Egypt & Levant; Jan Vanderputten, vice president, operations, Africa & Indian Ocean; cast their votes.

In order to motivate, inspire and challenge young chefs and mixologists, Hilton Worldwide Middle East & Africa organises the F&B Masters. Hotelier editor Louise Oakley was at the 2012 culinary competition in Abu Dhabi to judge the talent

Now in its second year, the Hilton Worldwide Middle East & Africa F&B Masters is gaining momentum quickly.

The vast majority of the chain’s 56 MEA hotels entered this year’s culinary and mixology competition, submitting detailed PowerPoint presentations to Hilton Worldwide’s corporate F&B team, headed by Simon Lazarus, vice president, F&B, Hilton Worldwide MEA and Knud Bundgaard, culinary director, Hilton Worldwide MEA — who spearheads the F&B Masters.

Of these tens of applications, only three F&B teams of four people — which must comprise one commis chef and one waiter — and three mixologists made it to the final, held on October 17 at Hilton Abu Dhabi.

Here, they were put through their paces, with the first challenge requiring the culinary teams to present a panel of judges with the four-course menu they had submitted in the entry rounds.

After a break, it was then time for the black box competition, with mystery items including Liwa dates, linguine, a whole rabbit, John Dory fillet, lemongrass, prickly pear and fresh sugar cane. Meanwhile, the mixologists had to create four different types of cocktail and also faced a mystery box, including asparagus, grapefruit juice and coffee.

The full-day event was judged by Hilton senior management from across the region, including Essam Abouda, vice president – operations, Hilton Worldwide, Arabian Peninsula; Christian Grage, vice president, operations, Egypt & Levant; Jan Vanderputten, vice president, operations, Africa & Indian Ocean; Reinhard Truchlar, executive chef, Hilton Sharjah; Wolfgang Maier, general manager, Hilton Abu Dhabi, Steven Benson-Flower, culinary director, Hilton Ras Al Khaimah; Marino Gheradi, F&B manager, Hilton Ras Al Khaimah Resort & Spa; and Christian Hoehn, director of operations, Hilton Abu Dhabi — reflecting the weight placed on developing F&B talent by the Hilton team.

Bundgaard explained the rationale for the F&B Masters event: “F&B is a vital component of every one of our hotels and it's importance to the overall contribution to the property and the company, cannot be overestimated. Hilton Worldwide MEA has over 300 F&B outlets and employs 6000 F&B staff.

That’s more than one third of our total team member numbers of 17,000, all dedicated to the F&B function. Guests staying at our hotels are important customers for our F&B outlets but we also aim to attract custom from the local population, so the quality of both the product and the service at our restaurants and bars needs to be consistently high”.

He said the Masters was “a great incentive for young chefs to push themselves that extra mile and to demonstrate what they can achieve”. 

“I was very pleased at the talent on display at our F&B Masters event. I already knew how skillful and energetic the finalist teams were, but to see them in action, particularly in pressurised circumstances, was a delight to observe. They all worked tremendously hard to be shortlisted and very much deserved their place in the spotlight at the main competition finals,” added Bundgaard.

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Tough competition
So, who were these talented chefs and mixologists? The F&B teams came from Hilton Dubai Jumeirah Resort, Hilton Abu Dhabi and Conrad Pezula Resort & Spa, in South Africa, while Hilton Ras Al Khaimah Resort & Spa, UAE, Hilton Dubai Jumeirah Resort, UAE and the Hilton Seychelles Northolme Resort & Spa all vyed for the title of Mixologist of the Year.

The culinary competition was close, but ultimately the winning team was Conrad Pezula, who were praised by the judges for their “farm to table” approach to cooking, and their creativity under pressure.

The team comprised executive chef Geoffrey Murray, commis hot cook Theodora Qeba, pastry chef Kim Fenner and assistant F&B manager Armand Louw.

Bundgaard said: “Scoring between the winner and second runner-up was less than a 10% margin, a clear demonstration of the quality and skills on show at the event. 

However, the team from Conrad Pezula excel in key areas such as presentation of dishes and their versatility with ingredients and this gave them a slight edge. But the scores were tight throughout the event and Conrad Pezula were challenged right to the end of the competition”.

Executive chef of the winning team, Geoffrey Murray commented: “As a recent newcomer to the Hilton Worldwide family of hotels, I’m delighted that on our first attempt at entering a major international competition, the Conrad Pezula team was crowned champion and we did so against such tough competition”.

The winner of the Mixologist of the Year was Giovanni Bavajee, mixologist at Hilton Ras Al Khaimah Resort & Spa, who has now achieved the title for the second year running.

“It’s a huge honour to be voted number one mixologist at Hilton Worldwide MEA, for the second time. This year’s event, particularly the mystery black box competition, was intense and challenging but hugely enjoyable and I am already looking forward to the third F&B Masters event next year,” said Bavajee.

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New apprenticeship
The F&B Masters is just one of the initiatives organised by Hilton Worldwide to motivate and develop staff and ultimately, to inspire the next generation of hotel chefs, Bundgaard added.

“Hilton Worldwide has built an on-line learning package for team members offering around 2000 university courses. 

As F&B is such a major employer within the company, there are many courses dedicated to those working within the function and our team members are encouraged to take advantage of such a fantastic, complimentary resource. 

Of course, any theory training aligns with on-the-job practical training and in that regard, we have a new chefs apprenticeship programme rolling out across the MEA region. 

The programme has been put together in partnership with City & Guilds, probably the best known of the accreditation bodies, so that those who successfully pass the training can rely on that strong international City & Guilds recognition,” he revealed.

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