I’ve been invited to participate in the International Culinary Olympics (http://www.culinary-olympics.com) as part of a 5-man team called the 2008 Midwest Culinary Institute Olympic Team (http://www.culinarymasters.org). We are one of 8-12 regional teams from the United States attending the world-wide competition.
We’re traveling to Erfurt, Germany for the competition. Our trip will be October 16-25, 2008. In addition to loads of culinary equipment, we’re taking a slew of computers and cameras. I will blog the events each day, data access permitting. Articles will appear in this category. If you’d like to subscribe to this category in your RSS feed reader and keep track of our journey, add this URL: https://www.drewvogel.com/category/drewvogelcom/articles/2008-culinary-olympics/feed
Everything is doneâ€¦ We had a final fund raiser last night at Midwest Culinary Institute with â€œaction stationsâ€ dotted around the Summit Dining Room. (The dish I prepared was a fork-tender tornedeau of beef on a crouton with a rich mushroom demi-glace and topped with crab meat.) The equipment has been collected, packed, shipped, and received in Germany. The foodstuff has been prepared, packed, and brought to the Greater Cincinnati Northern Kentucky International Airport. The official team coats have been pressed and starched, carefully packed away to minimize wrinkling. It is inevitable that we will need to press them once we arrive â€“ a task for Brian and me to solve when we land. Our bags are packed and weâ€™re all set, or weâ€™ve forgotten things (like Brian nearly did with his passport â€“ a last-minute dash to his house solved that problem (thankfully he lives very close)).
Finally, after more than 12 months of planning and untold hours of work, itâ€™s time to go compete. It is hard to believe that, after so much work, the time is finally here.
The team â€“ all five of us â€“ met at Stringtown Grill in Florence Kentucky (the restaurant owned and operated by Rick Potter, team manager) for a last minute meeting, meal, and finalization of packing. A few of the spouses were there to see us off; other spouses were managing the responsibilities of one partner being away for 10 days. From there, we made the short drive over to the airport and began the process of getting through check-in and security. With the amount of electronics (cameras, computers, chargers, CPAP machine, batteries, converters and inverters, and more) that weâ€™re taking with us, we expected security to be more time-consuming than it was. Still, Brian, with his slew of equipment, had his bag run through the X-Ray machine three times before it was hand-searched and cleared.
We made it to the gate in plenty of time for a last-minute team meeting before boarding the plane. As I write this, weâ€™re settled in on the flight, anticipating a meal, then itâ€™s lights-out for me. The miles (or kilometers, if you prefer) are stretched below us, still more ahead of us than behind. I need to get some rest since a large part of my role tomorrow is ground transportation. I need to be on point and rested.
Weâ€™re all excited about the competition, and have reviewed our to-do lists over and over. Weâ€™re ready to represent the Midwest Culinary Institute.
Please stay tuned to this blog as we will be updating as often as possible during our trip â€“ at least once a day and hopefully more frequently than that.
After flying directly from Cincinnati to Frankfurt overnight (with only a few uncomfortable hours for most of the team, and no sleep for other members), we were able to get (quickly!) through customs and security to retrieve our bags and pick up our rental car. Because of confusing one-way roads in the rental car garage, getting out of the airport took longer than it should have and cost a little bit of money (1.50 Euros). But all is well and weâ€™re now in possession of a 9-passenger diesel van, which we loaded with all of our equipment and luggage and began the long trek (230 kilometers through lots of construction zones) from Frankfurt to Gotha, a small town about 20 minutes away from Erfurt which is to be our home while weâ€™re competing. We stopped for lunch in an unknown little town â€“ basically, what the GPS said was close when we decided we were hungry â€“ and had a nice Italian meal of pasta (including a dish that Brian couldnâ€™t eat because of dietary issues but turned out to be one of the best on the table, drizzled with truffle oil and dressed with shaved truffles), capresi salad, soups, and bread before heading on. I was tired from the trip but Brian helped keep me awake & alert during the long drive.
When they participated in the International Culinary Olympics in 2000 (at which the team took a silver medal), Chefs Potter and Neace stayed in the Quality Inn in Gotha and really built a kinship with Chef Thomas Zajaczkowski, who warmly welcomed us when we arrived today. Not at all deterred by the lack of a common language (weâ€™re English-speakers with a tiny smidge of German; Chef Thomas speaks very little English), the team reacquainted and presented gifts that we brought over from the USA for Chef Thomas and his crew. Chef, typically understated, mostly smiled (a lot) as he and his crew accepted the gifts.
We got checked in and situated in our small, comfortable hotel rooms before moving to the preparation area reserved for us by Chef Thomas. There are a few other teams using the hotel as their home base, so space is at a premium. Weâ€™ve got a really nice area in which to work, and they let us use their main kitchen as well. Unpacking and examining our materials, we were pleased to note that everything seems to have made the trip without damage.
Afterward, we asked Katja Haja, the front desk manager at the hotel, for a recommendation for a good German restaurant nearby where we could have our first dinner in Germany. She recommended a place close-by and we programmed the destination into our rental vanâ€™s GPS and took off on the short trip. We never found the restaurant but ended up, after a few conversations with locals, in a very nice Italian restaurant called Bocelli. The five of us had a cozy table in one corner of the dining room where we enjoyed the food very much. We met a local, Mattias, at the next table who was very interested in our Culinary Olympic story.
We walked back to the car and made the short trip back to the hotel for a quick team meeting to discuss plans for the next day â€“ Brian and I have several errands to run and a few elusive last-minute items to pick up. We also wrote this blog article.
Afterward, it was time for bed, for much-needed rest before the acceleration begins tomorrow! Alan Neace competes on Monday and Greg Skibinski competes on Wednesday.
Our photo repository is here! The gallery contains a raw feed of our photos â€“ they may be blurry, oriented incorrectly, and not have captions — all of this will be resolved as time permits.
Please note that if you wish to leave comments for the chefs, you may do so on this site. Theyâ€™ll see everything you send!
Day two in Gotha started mid-morning for us, as we all slept in a little bit to get caught up from the trip. With less than 5 hours of sleep last night, Iâ€™m still dragging a little bit, but hope to catch up on sleep in the next day or so.
The weather in Gotha is â€œperfect for aspic workâ€, said Rick Potter, team manager. Itâ€™s clear and cold; not hot like when the team was here in 2000. Itâ€™s cool enough that you want a jacket when you leave to go outside, but any amount of walking makes you want to take the jacket off and enjoy the cool, crisp air.
After a good German breakfast at the hotel (the breakfast included roulades, pork, sausages, pickled onions, potatoes, a green salad, and more (believe it or not â€“ MORE!)), the competitors and team manager (thatâ€™s Alan, Greg, and Rick, respectively) got to work organizing our prep while Brian and I ran out to the local market for a variety of last-minute items â€“ roses & babyâ€™s breath, flour, ladles, saffron, a few electronic gadgets to make life easier â€“ and had a great time at the market trying to make these unusual requests understandable to non-English-speakers. Lots of pointing and gesturing. Believe it or not, the easiest thing to communicate was electronic equipment. We had a difficult time figuring out flour (mehl) and chives (schnittlauche) in German, but thanks to our PDAs, wireless connections, and BabelFish, were able to get nearly everything we needed.
After another run or two to the shops (as new items were discovered) â€“ thankfully the shops are within a couple minutes of our preparation area â€“ we got rolling. Brian chopped lots of vegetables and did assorted assistant duties (as assigned) while I managed the electronics including getting pictures from the cameras up on the gallery and writing articles.
Tasks for the chefs today included spending a lot of time poaching vegetables, making croquettes out of various proteins, making crackers for garnish, lots of precision knife-work, made and cut polenta cakes, preparing aspic, and fried off miniature â€œsausagesâ€ wrapped in caul fat.
To answer a question from email (remember that you can comment on any article in this category and weâ€™ll make sure the chefs see everything you send), we cannot reveal the menus weâ€™re using in the competition at this point. The full menus will be revealed after we compete and are judged.
Today, Brian and I set out to the convention center where the events of the International Culinary Olympics are being held, in Erfurt, which is about 30 minutes away from our preparation room in Gotha. Using the GPS (thank goodness for the GPS!), we were able to make the trip easily.
The convention center at Erfurt was packed â€“ literally full to the brim â€“ with culinary-related presentations, booths, chefs, and the foodie public. The International Culinary Olympics is the largest event of its kind in the world. Despite being weary, it was invigorating to be among so many food professionals! Seeing the work of other competitors was enlightening and awe-inspiring. Iâ€™ve added a bunch of photos of their work to the gallery (note: photos of our entries are not up yet, and captions for everything are coming soon) for your review.
We wandered, mouths agape at the spectacle, through three giant halls full of vendors verifying the location of our table and looking for a few elusive pieces to complete our presentation â€“ a ladle & a couple specific cookie-cutters. We found the cutters we were missing and were able to negotiate with the vendor, who agreed to let us pay him the few Euros that we were short when we return tomorrow. Brian and I also took a few minutes to admire the work of the competitors who had presented their platters that day before jumping in the van and heading back to the preparation room.
When we got back to the hotel, it was time to get Chef Neaceâ€™s presentation together, so while Brian worked on menus and various display elements, I worked with the chefs in the kitchen while they sliced items, dipped them into aspic, and prepared the layout of the platters and plates. This process took several hours as each individual item that appears on the plate or platter is meticulously placed with tweezers.
We worked through the night and left the hotel around 5:00am to drive to Erfurt. I was very nervous driving because the meticulously-plated items were resting on the floor of the van, so it was imperative to drive very smoothly. Happily, we made it to the convention center without incident and got our materials set up with time to spare. Everyone was extremely relieved to have this, the first day of our competition, safely delivered to the convention center.
Then, it was all over except for the waiting. We drove back to Gotha for a few hours of sleep (it is disorienting to sleep from 8am until 2pm!). At 3:00pm, Alan and I drove back to Erfurt to attend the awards ceremony and tear down our presentation.
Chef Neace says, â€œEverything Iâ€™ve learned since I started competing in 1991 â€“ and everything Iâ€™ve learned by competing in 2008 at the International Culinary Olympics â€“ comes back to enrich the learning experience of the students of the Midwest Culinary Institute at Cincinnati State Technical and Community Collegeâ€.
Here are a few photos of Chef Neace from the awards ceremony. Click any photo to view a larger size.
Good luck Chef Greg Skibinski, who competes on Wednesday!