Le Meridien Kuala Lumpur recently announced on their Facebook Page about this initiative. When Janice Foo encouraged me to participate in Le Meridien Kuala Lumpur’s inaugural culinary challenge for their Facebook fans, she told me that “you just need to cook ONE dish, any dish you like… your favourite dish or your grandmother’s signature dish… just any one dish!”. The thing is, I have never entered any cooking competition of any kind and I was quite hesitant to take this up. What really prompted me to say “Yes” was when she revealed that “oh, you get to cook in Prime’s kitchen!” OK, so that’s it. One dish. Prime Kitchen. I was sold. So I roped in my good friend, Alice Yong (as each team has to comprise of 2 people) and entered our names in the cookout challenge.
But at that point of time, I didn’t know how badly I was conned (together with poor Alice too). It was later, at the briefing that we (there were 4 teams altogether) were told that we had to cook not one, but THREE dishes, for 10 people at a budget of not more than RM500 in 3 hours. Yes, we had to come up with a menu featuring an appetizer, mains and dessert! Die.
We had to quickly come out with a menu and a list of the ingredients as these had to be submitted to LMKL for approval.
Oh, did I mention that the chief judges were none other than LMKL’s 2 executive chefs – Chef Antoine Rodriguez and Chef Zubir. Die harder. These 2 chefs are the main judges and the teams will also get to judge each other. That means to say, Chef Antoine and Chef Zubir will award 70% collectively and each of the 3 judging teams will award 10% each, thus totalling 100%.
Chef Antoine, Chef Zubir andd Chef Nur looking good in the kitchen!
Having got ourselves selected, there was no turning back. It’s do or die (and we had already died a few times). So Alice and I brainstormed. We wanted to cook food that we’re familiar with, so none of those snooty fine-dining stuff, we told ourselves. We wanted to cook and serve the kind of dishes that we would at home when we have guests over. Simple, wholesome comfort food, cooked from the heart.
So… our menu was:
Appetizer: Kerabu Seafood
Mains: Nasi Ulam Bahagia served with Chicken Curry Kapitan
Dessert: Home-style Banana Cake with Gula Melaka Caramel Sauce
To be on the safe side, we actually did a trial run just so that we could time ourselves and ensured that we could do everything within the 3-hour time limit. From peeling onions, shelling prawns to plating the food, everything had to be timed and run like clockwork.
Getting ready to beat up my cake!
Alice and I arrived early at LMKL on the day of our cookout. It was the very first time we presented ourselves in front of Prime at 8.00 am on a Saturday. I lugged along some of my personal utensils like peeler, masher, handmixer, 9” round cake tin and sea salt. Alice brought her own rice cooker because we were told that the rice cooker in Prime’s kitchen is of the gigantic commercial kind and would be way too big to cook just 4 cups of rice.
We quickly checked our trays of ingredients laid out in the spotless kitchen, to make sure we had everything we needed. Chef Nur was there to familiarize us to the equipment and stuff in the kitchen. There were so many types of plates and bowls to choose for our plating… decisions, decisions!
Chef Antoine came in just before 9.00am and being the sweetie that he is, he brought us coffee and croissants to calm our jitters. Wow… not bad, we got served by Chef Antoine!
At exactly 9.00am, Chef Antoine set off the timer for 3 hours. We had until 12 noon to complete our tasks. Great… the game is on.
Acting cool – still had time to pose for photos!
We had planned the chronology of tasks to make sure we didn’t miss any step or procedure. In our trial at home, I actually forgot to toast the cashews (for our kerabu) and pecans (for the banana cake)… so I made sure these nuts were placed on trays right beside the oven. My first task was to beat up the cake and pop it into the oven. The 9” round cake tin looked mighty small in that huge commercial oven. The oven door handle didn’t work well and thank goodness Chef Nur was around to help with that. “You have to use TLC on this knob”, that was his advice. Yeah, right… it didn’t work for me, when I tried that. Eventually I gave it a few hard bangs and it clicked, sometimes. But I was also wary about the banging because that might cause my cake to collapse in the middle! Horrors! Well, my cake turned out nicely without any sink holes… phewww!
Alice is a very focused person – that I found out when we were in Prime’s kitchen. When she’s doing her stuff, her face and body language are totally immersed in the tasks at hand… a trait that Chef Antoine pointed out and marvelled. A good trait… that’s how all the herbs and leaves got sliced so finely in our Nasi Ulam Bahagia!
Gula Melaka Salted Caramel; toasted pecans; Chicken Curry Kapitan
I love the air conditioning and ventilation in the kitchen. We hardly broke a sweat, even when we were running around (especially during the final hour) and the excellent exhaust system ensured there was no lingering strong smells, not even after Alice toasted her belacan! Chef Antoine did mention that his kitchen has begun to smell like a mamak restaurant and not a steak house, hahaha!
Chef Antoine checking the sugar content
As the minutes ticked by, we got more “kancheong”… thanks to the chef’s constant reminders “you have X-minutes left!!!” Chef Antoine is currently on a healthy lifestyle mode – he kept badgering me about the amount of sugar I was using… in the kerabu dressing, in the cake, in the caramel sauce… he thought he’d be sugared to death. He asked how many kilos of sugar I was putting in the food and reminded me that sugar is bad etc etc! Finally, I told him “Chef Antoine, can you please get out of this kitchen?” Muahahahahah! He pouted and he glared at me “You are kicking me out of MY kitchen??” I affirmed “Yes, sir”. So he kwai-kwai went out and sat at the dining table and wouldn’t stop telling everyone that I booted him from his own kitchen! OMG that was priceless… I really love that guy.
Alice and I had everything cooked and done at a quarter to noon.
Our Kerabu Seafood
Just like in the tv shows and the many times I’ve dined at Prime, the serving plates were all lined up and we had to get going with the plating. Yeah, under the watchful eyes of the diners-cum-judges. Quite un-nerving, really. Alice and I chose the 2 best platings and we personally served these to the two chief judges – Chef Zubir and Chef Antoine. And just like in the tv shows, everyone had to wait for their comments on the dishes before the rest were served.
Nasi Ulam Bahagia & Curry Chicken Kapitan
Plating food professionally is something new to me. My challenge was the Banana Cake. Everything was so brown on the plate… brown cake, brown sauce, brown nuts. I was cracking my head on what relevant colorful stuff to add onto it. Can’t be adding mint leaves because that would look so incongruous (I always wonder why people use that on cakes anyway!); neither could I put berries of any kind as they don’t gel with the cake. Coconut shavings? Nahh… already used coconut in the Chicken Curry Kapitan. So, in the end… it was a plate of delightful (I hope) brown-ness.
Chef Zubir sniffing the caramel sauce to make sure there is gula melaka in it!
The adorable Chef Antoine – and see, he polished off my cake – yayyy! (it was not overly sweet at all!)
Listening intently to the judges’ comments
So, all went well (I hope), nobody got poisoned by our food, nor was anything left raw and thank goodness, no food was returned uneaten. Well, we didn’t win the challenge. The winners were Team Cheeky Chefs (congrats Jen & Sashi!) – well deserved winners – they’re such a blast!
The quaint table setting at the Results & Prize-giving Dinner (I thought the colorful pots were for us!)
At the Results & Prize Giving dinner, Chef Antoine and Chef Zubir replicated the winning menu for all the participants. So, the heart-thudding moment was when the appetizer was served, shaking hands lifted the cover and the moment we saw the Fish & Potato Cutlets, screams of congratulations went to Jennifer and Sashi.
Jennifer and Sashi getting their prizes from Harvey Thompson, General Manager of Le Meridien Kuala Lumpur
The winning menu as replicated by the Chefs at Le Meridien Kuala Lumpur…
Fish & Potato Cutlets
Pot Roast Chicken
Vanilla Ice-cream & Nutella Purse
OK, now that the whole event is over, I must say it has been a helluva experience. I now have bragging rights to say that I have cooked in Prime’s kitchen. I have cooked food to serve their executive chefs plus other food experts plus members of the media too! Most importantly, I didn’t cause Chef Antoine any sugar-induced coma because he finally understood and appreciated my seasoning skills.
CuisineExplored was an incredible experience for me. It was absolutely good fun – for 3 hours we reigned supreme in Prime. Heck, even Chef Antoine hollered at us “Hey Chefs, how many more minutes until we get served?!!”
Would I do it again? Hmmm… well, I’m not sure if I am even allowed to… not after the way I booted Chef Antoine out from his own kitchen!
*All photos without watermark are courtesy from Le Meridien Kuala Lumpur (thank you, Janice Foo!)