7 Nov 2014
Adam Khazaal, President Australian Young Chefs Club
My Vanuatu experience started off like every horror movie I have ever seen. I got off the plane at midnight and walked up to my transfer, awaiting me was a customary shell necklace. I accepted, got into the van and we were on our way. It was pitch black with only the headlights lighting the road. We were heading down a long winding road that was lined with police who were still settling a protest which had caused a blockade earlier that day.
While dodging pot holes is normal for the locals I was shocked on the first night how the drivers would driving on both sides of the road in order to avoid them. After a 10 minute drive I arrived at the hotel and was greeted by security. Without showing any ID I was lead to my room, an amazing lagoon view bungalow. But none of this mattered until I had checking up to three times that my door was locked. I then had a shower to relieve me from the humidity and finally got to sleep.
I woke up early the following morning, ordered breakfast and was shocked how a simple fried egg on toast could be so flavoursome. This set the tone for my food experience of the whole trip. I was lucky enough to open up the judging in the first time slot of the Salon Culinaire 2014. Chris Bulememe, the Vanuatu Young Chefs Ambassador was my partnering judge for the Student of the Year competition. He and I figured quickly that we work well together with him teaching and describing local techniques and me teaching and explaining western cooking techniques.
The precedent was set in this competition when I asked a competitor “Where did you get the coconut cream?” as I couldn’t see a tin or container. He showed me his little wooden horse which had what looked like a circular saw attachment. He explained how he cracked the coconut and the water falls into a bowl and then he grated the flesh using this circular saw looking attachment. Once the flesh was mixed with the water he squeezed it all together to make it into a creamy consistency. I was shocked at how effortless it looks and how fresh it tasted. It opened my eyes as I have taken so many ingredients for granted in Australia and never known how it comes about. This was the first but definitely not the last time I saw the coconut horse tool.
Strolling through the market place I saw some of the ugliest fruit I have ever seen. Green skinned mangoes which had more black than green, but when sliced open this rich orange/gold colour was revealed so I took a bite. The succulent and juicy flesh was heavenly. This was the freshest mango I had ever tasted. Feeling satisfied I was told to try some of the wild raspberries; the flavour was like a punch in the face. My tongue was tingling from the flavour sensation. This was my introduction to the fresh produce of Vanuatu and my mouth was watering for more.
I was told before I arrived not to expect much from the competitors as they were mostly from villages or islands and have never travelled abroad. I was surprised by how a slab of concrete on a beach was transformed into a commercial kitchen fitted with a 6 port stovetop and under bench ovens. The dishes which were produced in these kitchens were delicious and fairly technical. The only real noticeable difference in quality from Vanuatu and Australian was the “Island size” portions which is about forty percent larger than I am used to in competition.
However after all of the amazingly fresh and delicious food I was lucky enough to eat, it wasn’t the highlight. The highlight of my trip was the canapés night on the Monday night (International Chefs day) where Chris and I were paired up to cook my hot and cold canapés. It was a fantastic experience for me as I was able to talk Chris through cleaning and preparing the pork belly and also introduce him to using squid ink, which we mixed through a mayonnaise. Chris and I made a great prep team finishing our preparation within an hour of the three hour window.
When serviced came around Chris and I were asked to say some words to the guests. Chris was first on the microphone and he spoke about the future of the Vanuatu Chefs and how he was excited about his new role and what he can do for his fellow chefs. I followed and spoke about the origin of International Chefs day, Pass It On and how Vanuatu is the first Pacific Island to have a Young Chefs Club but is doesn’t mean they are alone. The World Young Chefs Development Team (Dr. Billy, Andy, Alan, Dale and Jodi-Ann) has all been a great support to me and all countries. They have grown the World Young Chefs to where it is now.
The Vanuatu committee with Isaac Boyle as the new President with Sarah and Rob behind the scenes have put together an excellent event which has brought a community together. Now with Chris and the Young Chefs, this event should be secure for many years to come.