Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Chefs go wild at Penang International Food Festival

Chefs let loose their imagination in a battle royale.

THE Penang International Food Festival (PIFF) was all about food and drinks. Chefs from around the country were fighting it out for medals in various categories – main course, confectionary, butter sculpture, modern Chinese and brown rice cooking. Judging was by 32 experienced individuals in the local and international food industries, comprising mostly chefs.

Work of art: A chocolate creation entitled Dream Car.

But along the sidelines of the main attractions, several interesting ‘side dishes’ were discovered. One of them were three bloggers who about a year ago formed what’s now a popular makan blog, PenangTuaPui.com.

The guys behind the blog, CS, KC and HS are engineers working at the same company.

“We would rather focus on Penang food as that’s our niche,” says KC (aka Tam Ciak), 29. “We grew up with this particular style of food, and Penang’s our home.” Lucky boys; Penang fare is easily the best in Malaysia.

The blog’s popularity has spiked although it’s relatively new. Thus far, more than 200 food outlets, mostly the island’s many street stalls, have been reviewed. And they still have many to go!

“For char kueh teow alone there are more than 20 popular stalls. We haven’t even explored the Butterworth mainland yet!” adds HS (aka Fei Fei), 39, when met at the festival’s beer garden.

Hard at work: Judges busy tallying points at the Penang International Food Festival

The fest actually had an official beer, Carlsberg Gold. The guys had several bottles of the beer, and noted that they might consider writing a post on local food and beer pairings. “We have always focused on food. Never really thought of going into drinks before,” says KC.

“Ultimately we would like to be a one-stop site for Penang food,” he says. He reveals they get people e-mailing them to ask for a food tour itinerary. “We feel like tour guides sometimes!”

He adds that the blog, recently listed by The Edge on its “65 Malaysian Websites That We Like” is a platform for both sides of the food divide – the consumers and the outlet owners. “But what we give in our reviews is the customer’s perspective, although we try to engage the owners to get their views.”

On reviews that are negative, KC says either the food is just plain bad, or other factors are at play. “There are a lot of other possible reasons – the chef’s mood, your mood, the freshness of the ingredients, the sequence that you have the dishes.”

At one corner of the hall were sounds of several chainsaws in action. It was not a preparation for an elephant BBQ but a popular “pastime” of hotel chefs – ice-carving.

Officially known as artists rather than chefs, such individuals generally come under the food & beverage industry.

Chefs Association of Malaysia chairman Audee Cheah organised the festival for the second time.

Unfortunately, these ornaments are transient works of art that self-destruct. They start to fade away as soon as they’re made, which is a shame.

Penangites Hasmadi Sulaiman and Mohd Farid Abdullah hacked, chiseled and sawed their way through three blocks of ice to create a tall, imposing sculpture with an undersea theme. It comprised several seahorses and fish, all large and well-made into a single piece.

“It’s a skill I picked up in my hotel days,” says Hasmadi, 32. The guys currently run their own food businesses. “It’s something we haven’t done in a while! We only practised this particular design twice before the competition.” They had spent about RM1,000 each on equipment. For their efforts, they bagged a silver medal.

“We judge based on the level of difficulty, technique and impressiveness,” says judge Frankie Lee, who is the chief artist from YTL Hotels. “The younger generation isn’t too keen on carving as it’s difficult.”

Lee adds that competition experience is good as it requires a creative idea to be built within a short time.

An extremely appealing creation in the Chocolate Works category was a glistening little car made of chocolate that made many visitors drool. You could smell the chocolate from a distance.

There were countless other works of art, many made from fruits and vegetables. Some were extremely intricate and visually stunning.

The wedding cakes were amazing, looking too good to be touched, let alone eaten.

Audee Cheah, organising chairman of the festival and chairman of the Chefs Association of Malaysia (Penang Chapter), says everything went smoothly.

Taking refuge at the festival’s Gold Beer Garden, he says this was his second time as festival organiser.

Curiously, why the need for an official beer? “Because chefs drink!” Cheah replied. But not while they cook, he claims. “After a long day in the kitchen, we like to have a few beers.” What “a few” means is anyone’s guess!

“I actually insisted on Carlsberg Gold (as the official beer) as it’s more prestigious. It’s something I drink during meals, and it goes well with spicy food. I find it smoother than other beers, with a stronger flavour, and it’s easy to drink.”

The PIFF proved to be an exciting avenue for chefs to let their creative juices flow.

Source : STAR
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