WACS Congress 2012
When I recieved the request to come and speak at the prestigious World Association of Chef Societies Bi-Annual Congress ( Iwas also invited at WACS 2010 in Chile), which would be held in Daejeon, South Korea from May 01-May 06, 2012, I was more than thrilled. WACS represent more than 90 countries members (> than 10 million chefs world-wide) and my main role at the conference would be to assist the young chefs’ delegates as well as seasoned chefs to further comprehend the joys and challenges of pairing wine with food.
And as the only sommelier invited, I also had the honour of participating as a judge in the Global Chef Challenge Finals. The challenge is the result of two years of competitions with more than 600 local selections, 42 national championships and 7 continental finals. It has come down to 7 chefs to dispute the biannual Global Chef Challenge Title.
WACS Conference 2012 - Day 1
So here I am. My very first day and first time in Korea. Arrived late Saturday night after 13 hours of flight and layover time (Edmonton-Vancouver-Seoul) and with a 15 hour time difference. The trip with Air Canada from beginning to end was typical Air Canada. Those who have used Air Canada know how I feel. What was amusing was that I found myself surrounded by young chefs from the Vancouver Community College who are also here for the Congress. Food on board an airline is average at best (specially in economy) but surrounded by 17 young yet talented chefs, the experience was worthwhile to capture on film. Too bad my camera was in my other suitcase. Their comments on sodium compounds and tastes brought a smile to my face. I’m wondering if the flight attendants paid much attention to their comments.
Arrived in Seoul 1 hour late due the fact that Air Canada had overbooked 4 seats in business class in Vancouver and needed time to resolve the problem.
Seoul airport is quite extensive so they have an internal train system for passangers to take to go to their baggage claim area. Neat! Then after customs (very efficent and courteous) I was met by a WACS official who had a limousine waiting for me to drive me to Daejeon. I shared the limo drive with Rick Stephen (a native Aussie who now resides in Singapore and is the Asia Contintental Director for WACS) in charge of the 2012 Congress and his wife. While in theory the drive may be a 2.5 hour drive, in reality it took us well over 3 hours as the main highway(Highway 1) between Seoul and Daejeon is fully congested and at times we were going as slow as 40km/hour on a 120 km/ hour highway. This, on a Saturday. I asked my driver if this is normal or just typical of Saturdays. In his broken English I understood that this is VERY typical and some days are worse then others. WORSE! Hard to believe.
Well, arrived safe and sound (about 8pm) to our hotel(Hotel Interciti) in the Yuseong-gu district of Daejeon. Considered a deluxe hotel, their extremely courteous staff are very respectful and attentive. Having being in the hotel industry for a number of years, it is always refreshing to see attentive staff. I noticed a few things immediately. They let you speak first, then they listen and they do NOT interrupt. REFRESHING! However I also noticed something that I will need to get used to. They cover embarrassment with laughter. When I realized that my room did not have WiFi but only an ethernet connection, I called down to the front desk where a charming lady tried to explain, intermittent with laughter, that the only WiFi areas of the hotel were in the busineess cente and the food and beverage area.
As always first night sleep in a hotel with a 15 hours time difference is dreadful but managed to get up and have an appetizing breakfast (a mingle of western and asian food). As today, Sunday, is a day off I will be trying the typical tourist sightseeing adventures. And speaking NOT a word of Korean! Wish me luck.
So I will chat again tomorrow
WACS Conference 2012 - Day 2
As I mentioned yesterday, Sunday was a day of repose with nothing to do but relax. I am hoping I am not confusing you all with my time and dates as Daejeon is 15 hours ahead from Edmonton.
My day of real work starts Monday as I will need to prep myself so as to brief the 7 chef finalists to the Global Chefs Challenge on the wines they will need to pair with their 4 dishes. Will chat about my involvement and role in regards to the challenge tomorrow.
So Sunday, I was able to take it with ease first having a liesurely breakfast of asian(steamed fish cakes, various dim sum dishes), smoked salmon and only a small slice of sausage (David would be proud). Then I spent quite a bit of time composing my first WACS blog which appeared yesterday.
I then needed to go out and sightsee. Yesterday I mentioned that I would adventure in Daejeon without any Korean vocabulary and see how I could fend for myself. Well first the hotel did not have any English maps and second, any street maps were all in Korean. So, not to my surprise, I managed to get lost a number of times. Well the third time turned out very well, as I landed in the Open Market where thousands of street vendors were displaying their wares for all to buy. And as in every market around the world, the noise was loud, filled with cries from spice merchants to fish criers; from butchers to gardeners.It was wonderful. But the sad thing was that I did not understand a single word. And what they are selling was astonishing; from fish most of which I had no idea of identification (but I did recognize that skate and octopus), to vegetables and roots that remained a mystery to me. And the other things, I could not even guess.
However what was most astonishing was that while there were thousands of people bartering, people continously stared at me not because I was taking pictures but because I was the only westerner in the entire market area. I certainly felt conspicuous. And after spending a full two hours roaming up and down small alleys to see what I could see, it happened again. I managed to get lost! Try asking directions to a 100 year old vendor who is looking at you as if you just arrived from another planet!
But I finally managed to find my hotel and I was thrilled about my afternoon escapade.
So by 4pm and exhausted, I thought, what about a little snooze? I really try to understand when people tell me about a power nap. But come on, POWER NAP! For me a snooze is at least 2 hours long so 2.6 hours later and feeling refreshed, I headed down to the bar for a before dinner drink. A glass of wine I ask? Wine? Glass? The look of bewilderment across my server’s face told me everything I need to know. NO WINE! Well beer it was. Korean beer is mainly done in the lager style so I was recommended a Cafri, one well known Korean beer. As we have fun at Vines asking about what other names Tempranillo grape may have, this Cafri is actual another name for Corona-like beer. As light and tasteless. I felt like telling them that they should offer a slice of lime with their beer. But yes, David, it quenched the thirst.
Then headed off to their dinning room, which is really a all-day restuarant “The View”. There I met Rick Stephen(whom I mentioned sharing a limo with on the way from Seoul to Daejeon), his wife and serveral chefs also from Singapore but all of them Aussie lads.
The dinner to say the least was acceptable but certainly not memorable. My butternutsquash soup was perhaps the best thing there while my beef tenderloin was to say quite average. I was amazed to see Australian beef written on the menu, but I was quickly told to stay away from Korean beef. The chefs just shook their heads and let’s leave it at that. But the fun thing was when Rick asked me to choose the wine. When Mouton Cadet is their best French red at $60.00 per bottle and Yellow Tail Reserve Shiraz at $80.00/bottle, I knew I was in trouble. I decided to pick the 2010 Santa Carolina Reserve Merlot as our wine for the evening. A Chilean red, a rather safe bet. But at $60.00/bottle, wine and liquor markups are extravagant. And then came the service to open the wine. As everyone at Vines know, I carry a corkscrew everywhere I go. Sibeal, my wife, insisted I bring 2 and luckily for me I did bring it to the restuarant. My assistance brought a smile to the server, bowing and thanking me. Whatever one can say about Koreans, they are polite.
We finally finsihed the evening back at the bar for a night cap. A cognac or a single malt scotch? Their bar list was impressive but what was even more astonishing is that while they offer their cheapest spirits by the glass, their better brands are only sold BY THE BOTTLE! So how about a 500ml bottle of Macallan 18 for $150.00 or a Hennessy XO for $240.00? I guess it’s beer for me please!
Tommorrow will be the start of my work week, so stay tuned for more!
WACS Conference 2012 - Day 3
Well today started my official involvement with WACS Congress. So to get in the right frame of mind, I went to the renowed Spa annexed to my hotel. At 6:30 am it was already quite busy with buisness men and seniors washing, bathing and steaming themselves. I went from a warm bath to a hot bath to a sauna to a cold bath, finally finishing off with ice cold fountains. BRRR yet WONDERFUL. Invigorating to say the least. Deajeon by the way is famous for their hot springs. After a hearty breakfast I prepared myself for my upcoming tasks.
My role with WACS is two-fold. The first is to brief the 7 finalists with their wine list. As previously mentioned, the Global Chefs Challenge is WACS equivalent to Germany’s World Culinary Olympics. To summarize, the challenge is the result of two years of competitions with more than 600 local selections, 42 national championships, to finally finish with the 7 chefs to dispute the biannual Global Chef Challenge Title as Top Chef! Wow, these chefs are good!
Today I will brief the Global Chefs finalists as to their selection of wines that they can use. This will include a “small” chat (for the people who know me “small”, “little”, “brief” are not words in my vocabulary when I have to talk about wine) followed by a tasting of all 10 wines.
The list is as follows:
2011 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc-Marlborough NZ
2009 Robert Mondavi Chardonnay – Napa Valley-California
2011 Dr. Loosen Ederner Treppchen Riesling Kabinett – Mosel-Germany
2010 Chapoutier Tavel Rose – Rhione-France
2009 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Villages – Beaujolais-France
2008 Louis Jadot Bourgogne Pinot Noir – Burgundy-France
2008 Montgras Antu Ninquen Cabernet Sauvignon- Colchagua-Chile
2009 Two Hands “Gnarly Dudes” Shiraz – Barossa valley-Australia
2008 Brown Brothers Orange Muscat & Flora – Victoria-Australia
2008 Ginestet Sauternes – Sauternes-France
I also have the honour of being the principal judge for the wine and food component for this outstanding competition which will occur on May 04. There will be 8 food judges who will judge on kitchen preparation, waste management, plating, presentation and of course taste. I will be on another table focusing my attention on the actual selection of wine used to match the food as well as what I call “flow” or the logic in sequential choosing. 20 points on actual match and 5 points for flow. As there will be 4 dishes presented by each finalist, their total will be out of 100. I will certainly go into a lot more detail just before the competition.
As for my second role here, I will be presenting a lecture on the joys and challenges of wine & food pairing to the Young Chefs Forum to about 100 young chefs from around the world on Saturday moring. As everyone realizes, these young and talented chefs represent some of the best the future will offer, so to hopefully inspire them to look at wine with a new approach and new understanding will make wine look no longer good but great!
As the afternoon fast approached, I arrived at the DCC (Daejeon Convention Centre) with a few other chefs to meet Esther, my guide and organizer for my briefing and tasting. The Congress is actually an enormous set-up. Intermingled with it are other events associated with WACS (Korean Food Festival, Korea Culinary Competition). So to find Esther in a maze of booths being constructed, meetings rooms filled with chefs from around the world, and overall construction for Tuesday’s grand opening was to say in the least daunting!
So when I did find her I immediately went to see how my wines were faring (white and dessert wine in the fridge, reds ready to be opened). Luckily no decating was necessary. I set up the room for my presentation and then headed off to the WACS Village (their official Trade Show) in construction mode.
At 6:00pm, Rick Stephen (in charge of the Congress) spoke to both competion finalists (the Hans Bueschkens Competition for the Young Chefs and the Global Chefs Callenge for the more senior chefs) explaining the rules and regulations for both. The Young Chefs have 3 dishes to present to their judges while the Global will have 4 dishes (mushroom, halibut, kobe beef and strawberries).
Then they shifted rooms to come and have a glass (or serveral) of wine with yours truely. Luckily for me everyone understood English except 1 team. Oh my, I was in trouble. But no panic as I quickly changed into my international persona and started speaking Italian. The relief of the Italian team was amazing and rather grateful. So in 90 minutes instead of 60 minutes(hey, that wasn’t bad!) we chatted about the characteristics of the wines and possibilties of pairing. While I know the main ingredient in each dish (previously mentioned) I certainly do not know about the specifics and neither do the judges until their menus are released on the day of the competition.
The briefing ended, the chefs went to inspect the kitchens and we finally headed back to our hotel about 10:00pm.
Hey, how about some food! I certainly had a full breakfast but nothing since. Time to refuel was necessary. But try to find a food place opened after 9pm. Good luck! I imagine Spanish tourists visiting Korea. They would all die of hunger! The hotel restaurant was closed but the bar was opened. Liquid dinner, you say? Well, thought about it, really thought about it, but I certainly needed something more substantial. So with Mark, another chef official (also from Singapore working closely with Rick) we discovered a bar/eatery not too far from our hotel. Everything was written in Korean but luckily they had pictures. I chose some chicken wings/thighs/legs with a honey mustard sauce and when it arrived we both looked at my dish rather curiously as on the plate with the greasy deep fried chicken parts was a small bowl consisting of 1 cherry tomatoe sliced in two and 1 banana thickly sliced. Banana with deep fried chicken. Out of box thinkers these Koreans!
With some fuel in us and of course a few beers, we trotted back to our hotel rooms for a brief sleep as I needed to get up by 5 to finish this article and get ready to scoot off to the DCC and check out Tuesday events
WACS Conference 2012 - Day 3
Tuesday has been a long day. But exciting!
Getting up at 5 am to relate about the previous day events can be hard on the system but let me tell you, very worthwhile.
By 7:oo am I was ready for another sauna experience and like the day before, a westerner in a Korean sauna can be intimidating. They automatically feel that you are invading their sanctity and they cannot behave as normal male Koreans want to because they are too polite.
So by 8:15 I was downstairs in the lobby after a medium size breakfast thinking that a shuttle bus would be available to take me to the DCC (Daejeon Convention Centre). I found out quite quickly that the shuttle had already left at 5;30 am with the chef contestants that were supposed to cook and present today. So a cab it was and I arrived by 8:30 at the Convention Centre. Taxi fares in Korea are cheap. Imagine taking a cab from my wine shop to the Convention Centre for only $5.00. Not too shabby!
Todays schedule for the actual contestants was rather demanding. They first had to get up by 4:30 and arrive to the Centre by 5:30am, had to prep their food and then have it displayed properly to be judged. There were three category classes today. The first “R” was the “Field and Forest” Hot Kitchen presented by WACS selected country teams; category “D” was the Gourmet Challenge presented by WACS Junior members, and finally, presented by the Korean Chef’s Association, there was Category A,B,C.; wedding cake, sugar showpiece, Royal Court Korean Dinner, One Festive/Buffet Platter; Finger Foods/Tapas (Wow, some of them were absolutely gorgeous to view). Quite a lot to organize and everything had to be timed perfectly.The judges were selected according to their expertise and it took them most of the day to tabulate their points and choose a daily winner. Tomorrow there will be another round with a final winner declared on Thursday.
And to give the contestants a sense of accomplishment, they had to cook a fair number of dishes as the public was invited to attend, inspect and sample the dishes for a ticket fee. And let me tell you that Koreans love their food. As one Korean chef told me, many nasty arguments are resolved over good food. From 16 year olds to 90 year grandmas, they were all there checking out the superb displays snapping pictures from smart phones to the highest digal cameras available. I saw a 80+ woman directing her grandson to take the pictures she wanted, saying yes to some and definetly no to others. Maybe she was an “undercover” judge. She certainly acted that way. And the line ups for tickets were incredible. They sold out the determined seats in about 1 hour as there were certainly over 200 covers to sell. The chefs would have to plate the dish, then runners would serve their perspective tables.
This was an all day affair. Canada Junior Team(composed of young chefs under the auspice of Vancouver Community College and under the leadership of JC Felicella, team manager of the Junior Culinary Team Canada) was keeping up with appeareances and delivering a grand spectacle. I discreetly spoke to a judge who informed me that many judges were very impressed with Team Canada however they would have to wait for Round Two before declaring a winner. Go, Canada, Go!
At about 3 pm, I knew it was time to take a well deserved break and therefore headed back to my hotel for a quick shower (those rooms get warm fast) and to dress up for our welcome reception.
The evening was a meet and greet affair first with speeches from WACS president Gissur Gudmundsson, the Vice-Mayor of Daejeon and the representative of Korea Chefs Association. We then headed off to the reception room where delicious korean dishes were displayed and dived in very quickly by all. After a day like today, there were a lot of hungry chefs and very few had any chance of eating all day. And yes there were 2 wines offered besides a complimentary full bar: Dourthe Bordeaux Rouge and a Montgras Sauvignon Blanc, nothing extraordinary but respectful. Korea is still in its infancy when it comes to a wine culture. Speaking with a few chefs who now reside in Seoul and teach at different culinary acadamies, they all say that the potential is there but it will take time. A bit like where China is now.
Perhaps the best part of the evening was the band on stage, composed of 7 young yet very talented Koreans playing to the tunes of New Oreleans Jazz, Buddy Holly and even Paul Anka. The room was rocking, myself included. Hey you just cannot stop snapping, taping and shaking when you hear tunes like “All the Saints go marching in” or not being moved by the lead singer with the song “Diana”.
With the evening completed, we all headed back to our respected hotels for we all knew that Wednesday would be another engaging day.
WACS Conference 2012 - Day 4
Just as I expected,, Wednesday was very much a repeat of Tuesday. Participating chefs were involved in 3 categories. Todays”R” teams which included strong teams from Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong were prepping seafood (halibut) while the “D” teams were involved in the Gourmet Challenge and Categories A, B,and C presented 4 different appetizers; 4 different individually plated desserts; chocolate showpiece; petits fours/pralines, ethnic asian meal or modern contemporary Korean. Say all that in one breath!!
The judges (always in teams) were as usual extremely busy, inspecting the finer details of theses chefs craftmanship, and discussing their merits. Category A,B, and C were a visual delight.
Wednesday was officially the Grand Opening of WACS 2012 so board members gathered together for new resolutions and the voting went on and on. While this is an important aspect of any international association, it quickly turned boring for myself so I scooted back to the WACS Village to inspect some of these masterpieces. In other rooms, education sessions were in progress.
After lunch we were all invited to attend the Parade of Nations, where all 90 countries members (who represent 10 million chefs) were acknowledged and celebrated by having young Korean culinary students carry each flag of the member countries. Then TV cameras startred to pour in, men in suits with earpieces and we knew that our special guest was about to enter the room. Korea’s First Lady was about to address our assembly of nations. While I did not have a translator earphone, I can only guess the words ” how pleased I am to be attending such an important event and be in the mist of such renowned chefs from all over the world……” . The importance of being acknowleged by the highest echelons of the government is always a tribute of the importance of WACS. In Chile we were addresed by the then president of the country.
We then had to attend an even more important event: the official attempt regarding WACS entering into the World Guiness Book of Records for the largest gathering of chefs in one location. Wow!!! While this may seem fun, which it was, it was also a difficult undertaking. Getting everyone to gather at the Waterpark, then counted by the representative of Guiness World Records, then seated and further inspected by the representative (as everyone there HAD to be in their whites), this took a few hours. Luckily the weather cooperated as there were some mean clouds in the sky. Finally, the representative informed all assembled chefs that they need to stay in their places for a full ten minutes (she provided a stopwatch), the countdown began. I did a fast count looking over all the seated chefs and I estimated about 2200 chefs. The buildup to the final seconds was tense and the the result was announced. As any new category in the World Guiness Book of Records, there must be a minimum of 500, so we all knew that we were in. The final result! 2111 is the official number that will be entered. The mayor of Daejeon said a few worlds along with WACS preseident and then in typical chef’s fashion, everyone threw their hats in the air. It was a great feeling. There was national and local TV coverage and press galore.
We were then escorted back to our hotels where we just had time to change for our evening outdoor barbecue on the open grounds of the Daejeon Culture & Art Centre and where we were able to attend a concert with some of Korea’s top pop artists. The concert was attended by hundreds and more hundreds outside but what was astonishing was that they had reserved a good number of seats for us delegates. It was rather awkward arriving there in the mist of hundred of teenagers trying to get in only to be pushed aside for us to be escorted to our seats. You should have seen some looks! However we soon forgot that feeling and began to sway to the music along with hundreds of teenagers. I looked at the person sitting next to me and we both smiled, thinking alike, Ahh, to be 17 again!!
The evening completed, we headed back,
and I finally had my regular 7 hour sleep. Thursday will be an easy, slow day so I may have a very small blog relating to the events of Thursday. However I will make up for it on Friday and Saturday as they are my busiest days (Friday I am involved with the Global Chefs Challenge, and Saturday my chat about wine and food with the Young Chefs Forum). Tomorrow I will take the time to explain the Challenge and all 7 contestants.