By Annette Chrysostomou
Thirty chefs from Cyprus will next month join 2000 chefs from 40 countries in the Culinary Olympics in Erfurt, Germany.
Hosted in Germany ever since it was launched in 1896, this is the biggest food exhibition in the world.
And Cypriot chefs have been very successful ever since they first prepared meals for the 2008 contest. Actually, 2008 was their most successful year as they won eight gold medals and 18 silver medals.
Unlike the ‘other’ Olympics, a team doesn’t have to be the best to clinch a gold medal, but to have a certain quality rating, above 90 per cent.
“That makes it harder,” explained head of the Cyprus chefs’ association George Damianou, “because the standard is so high and you have got to be good at everything, service, techniques, quality, innovation…”
At each Olympics there are different themes. This year one of them is to prepare a game platter and another is for finger food and cheese bites. But the main challenge is to prepare and serve a three meal course for 110 people.
To add to the stress, the whole preparation process is on display as chefs work in glass-walled kitchens.
Dinner is then served to 100 visitors and ten judges who all eat together before passing judgement on the meal.
And it is a chance for the chefs to promote their countries’ products as well. The Cypriots have in the past found innovative ways to incorporate items such as halloumi, olives and kolokassi in their menus.
“We don’t always do this, but we try to help our country when we can,” Damianou said. “Once we did sheftalia with lobster, not the American lobster, but the Cypriot one.”
Another time the Cypriot junior team created a finger food with a modern twist which had an olive base, a tomato flan in the middle and halloumi on top.
The chefs cannot say what they will do for this year, as it has to remain under wraps until they prepare it in October, but they are busy getting ready for the challenge.
Helping them get organised for such events has been the Cyprus chefs’ association founded in 1994 which strives to enable chefs to work closer together.
The association is sending a total of 30 people to this year’s food exhibition. Twelve are in the national team, eight in the regional team and ten in the junior team, whose members are up to 25 years old.
In between the Olympics, Cyprus chefs also attend the culinary World Cups that take place every four years, as well as other national and international competitions for both teams and individuals.
“For a big competition like that, as a group we train for two years,” said Constantinos Kyrlakis, 24, who is head of the junior team.
Kyrlakis said the first time he attended an event of this calibre he found the standards higher than expected but believes Cyprus is doing well, especially considering its size.
In the 2014 World Cup in Luxembourg for instance Cyprus was ranked 14 out of 38 countries.
Taking part in the competition only made Kyrlakis and his team members aim for more. “Afterwards I was more motivated to keep on with the hard work and get even better one day and reach countries like Singapore, America, and Sweden,” he said.
That’s a tall order for the young chefs, as Sweden was the winner of the junior team competition in the 2012 Olympics.
But Kyrlakis believes the event provides far more than the opportunity to win.
“It is a good experience to see so many cultures at work. It’s not only a good competition but a cultural festival where you see new stuff and meet new people.”
Over 50,000 visitors, mostly chefs and restaurateurs are expected to attend the event which is not only a completion but also a demonstration of the latest developments in culinary art.
The Culinary Olympics start on October 30 in are being held in Erfurt, Germany