CHEF SPEAKS: A message in the wee hours of the morning on the Facebook messenger woke me up. Being a Chef and being a completely morning person someone who’s up and awake from 4.00 am, one can understand what those “wee hours” could be? It was a message from one of the contestants of the recently concluded Recipe Contest in which the contestant narrowly failed to win. She was worried and thought her dish was better looking and she deserved to win. I could understand her anxiety and her disappointment and the passion she had put in creating that dish. But many times, there are many things beyond “just the dish” that determines a winner, especially in a recipe contest.
As a Chef / Culinary Professional the judges can see much beyond the dish and arrive at a conclusion. So, if you think it is just about cooking a dish, taking a photograph and posting makes one a winner, unfortunately that’s not the case.
Below are some tips for the contestants/food lovers that may help you win recipe contests
Are the contests only for Chefs/ Baking Professionals/ Good Photographers? Many contestants don’t want to participate in the contests fearing that its only for Bakers or Professional Chefs can only win them. Is it true? Of course not. Anybody who can cook can and should enter recipe contests. It is beyond winning, Of course it’s a bonus and a nice feeling. But a true foodie/chef is one who likes to share his ideas/recipes/creations to the world. And in the social media era please understand somewhere, someone in the world is watching you and trying your creation and gets a happiness from that dish. True happiness is in Sharing.
You can create magnificent recipes standing out from the crowd, even if you are not a Professional Chef. Tough to Believe, its true, if you try Reading/Understanding/Reading.
Read – Take your time to soak yourself in the concept, however big or small it might be. What is the ingredient to be used, what are the contest rules, is that a starter, dessert, mains, is that an authentic cuisine, is it a global cuisine, cooking methods, how do they want the recipes to be? Once you are clear in your mind what the contest is about, and you have a mental picture of the dish, you are truly ready for it.
Understand: Once you have the mental picture of the dish you are going to create, understand the rules of the contest, what are the criteria for the contest, pay attention to the brand/company that s sponsoring the event wherever applicable. Is this a fitness company sponsoring the contest, if so you know the focus has to be on healthiness, diet, calories etc. If it’s a company into sweets, they may be looking for dessert options or sweet dishes. Once you understand the contest, you can focus on the theme of the contests and the judging criteria, so that you have the maximum opportunity to win the contest.
Read- This is something I focus on, look around and read about the different applications of the products in other parts of the world. For example, usage of Oranges in India might be restricted to desserts, fresh fruits, salads, whereas in Spain besides all these they might be using Oranges to make Orange sauces for main courses, Russians make Orange Borscht. Creating a recipe is about innovation and usage of the ingredients in different forms. That takes us to the next topic, Creativity.
Be Creative: Dare to be creative and believe in yourself and your skills. For example, if a contest talks about Chicken as an ingredient and if it is an Indian company, your recipe might not even get a glance if you post a recipe for Butter Chicken. It might be the best butter chicken, but why should it get a second glance? Your dish should stand out from the rest of the crowd. That’s why the above-mentioned steps are critical to arrive at an innovative dish or recipe. By going through the above-mentioned steps, you might arrive at a few recipes and based on the availability of ingredients/contest rules/ availability of equipment, you might shortlist one or two recipes and execute the same. You will be pleasantly surprised how much fun it is to go through different cultures, their cuisines and usage of products. And understand and believe “Knowledge never goes waste.”
Think Global Act Local: When you are creating a recipe, please understand you are doing a performance on a global stage. Social Media/ Internet is a global stage. You need to prepare yourself for that. A Recipe that appeals to a smaller section of audience only does not benefit the sponsor, the judges, the company and mostly yourself. Your aim should be to win over newer customers for all those who are in the chain and everybody is excited. You may want to avoid difficult to find ingredients or avoid food that's too spicy that one part of the globe is not comfortable. You can always provide options for making it spicy. Imagine you have a follower of your recipe staying in Slovakia and the key ingredient in the recipe is “Only Bydagi Chilli”, despite liking the recipe, they might be disappointed and might not follow your page as they don’t have the access to the product. Please understand disappointment in not having a particular food after seeing that or imagining that can have negative emotions.
Promote Sponsors: While you are creating a recipe to show case your skills, take time to help to fulfil the sponsor's goals, as they create contests to promote their product, promote you, or they want different applications for their products. While you are creating a recipe, think how your recipe can help to promote the sponsor’s goals, especially if the sponsor has more than few products in the category, it will help them to get a visibility, thereby getting you more chances.
KISS: Don’t be scandalized. It s a popular corporate jargon. KEEP IT SHORT AND SIMPLE. A recipe shouldn’t run for 4 pages. Remember the best dishes are the ones which are basic/simple. It s the final touch/twist you give to the dishes makes it look extra ordinary. Viewers don’t have the time to read so much for a dish. A short and easy dish will be appealing to the viewer than the one with so many steps and procedures. Also understand your audience, if they are amateur cooks, they would prefer easy cooking and you have better chance of winning.
Looking Good: Do you know the first thing the viewer sees is the image and the presentation of the dish, before moving on to the recipes and other details. A shabbily plated dish or photographed dish ruins all the good effort you put in creating a dish. Tasting is important for the food, but never under estimate the power of a good photograph and well-presented dish. It should look good as it tastes, especially in the era of Instagram.
It’s all in the name: An innovative name gets a recipe a second look and gives a second chance. The name catches the viewers attention and prompts them to go through the recipes. Take time to come with a descriptive name that s innovative and a bit humorous. The name should stick in the memory and if you do a bit of ground work as mentioned in step 1, you will have lot of options.
Enjoy the experience: Lastly don’t take pressure in a contest. Enjoy the experience of creating something new. You will be surprised at creating something on your own doing your homework. The smile that pops out after creating a dish and plating it and getting many smiles from the viewers, friends and family is priceless. Cherish the experience.
About the Author - Chef Ashok is a certified culinary professional who graduated from the world’s oldest culinary school Le Cordon Bleu with high honours and distinction. He has gained a speciality experience in Spanish cuisine from Spain working with chefs from Michelin starred in Bilbao and San Sebastian.
An experience with Ritz Carlton, working with Top French Chefs and with the top Italian restaurants in Australia has taught him the art of perfection and culinary discipline which he practices. Besides working in a corporate culinary environment, Ashok enjoys themed fusion dinners, hosting culinary classes. Chef Ashok shares his culinary journey with Plattershare and on his FB page Food Raconteur.