We’ve been addicted to cooking shows for decades – none more so than the likes of Ready, Steady Cook and Chopped. We’re not denying that it makes for great television – there’s something captivating about watching two flamboyant, talented chefs be given a list of disparate, random foodstuffs with which to conjure up inventive dishes.
Now Dubai’s foodies have a chance to see similar feats of culinary improvisation at Battle of the Chefs, a monthly event held at the Montgomerie Dubai. On April 20, Chef Andy Zyla of The Academy at Montgomerie Dubai (the home team, if you will) will faces off against Chef Chintana Pathrirana of Aquara restaurant in Dubai Marina Yacht Club. Both contenders, with the assistance of a team of three, will have 30 minutes to get a starter on the table, then another half hour per dish after that. Once the 50-strong audience finish tasting these ad-lib labours of love, they vote on the best meal and one of the two chefs will be crowned champion for the day.
Time Out caught up with the contestants before their showdown and, as well as finding out a bit more about them, we threw them a few random ingredients – lamb, butternut squash, saffron, asparagus and chocolate of some description (it’s our chocolate issue, you see) – to find out what recipes they’d come up with. We let them add their own (because we’re nice like that), but top marks will be awarded to the chef that can incorporate as many of the above ingredients into their recipe as possible. So, without further ado, let the battle commence!
Prepare a meal using the following ingredients: Lamb, butternut squash, saffron, asparagus, chocolate
Chintana Pathrirana Age: 36 Time in Dubai: 13 years Nationality: Sri Lanka Current restaurant: Aquara, Dubai Marina Yacht Club Previous experience: I first worked at a hotel that used to be called Royal Empire in Deira. I then worked at the Ritz-Carlton [JBR] for seven years, then at Raffles Dubai.
How did you get involved in Battle of the Chefs? The Montgomerie chefs sent me an invitation. Last time we went, we won. It was nice – it’s all about the experience.
What are you most looking forward to about this event? Though it’s a competition, it’s all about working in a team. I can bring three of the staff members with me – we work on a three-course menu for 50 guests, so we need the support.
What are you most nervous about? When I’m behind. When the other chef is working faster than me I’ll get nervous, but I still won’t change what I’m doing.
What’s your signature dish? I do seafood – lobster dishes. What’s the last meal you cooked for yourself? I’m Asian, and I like spicy Asian food. The last thing I cooked was Sichuan prawns for my family.
What’s in your fridge? A nice cream dory.
What are your strengths? My creativity, I think.
Your weaknesses? I take it very personally when guests send back their food!
What’s more nerve-wracking – working in a top kitchen or cooking in front of an audience? Working in front of a really big live audience is quite nerve-wracking.
Which chef would you most like a cook-off against? My previous executive chef, Viktor Stampfer. He’s very good.
Chintara prepared a pan-seared cut of lamb rump, butternut squash purée, mushroom duxelles and warm salad of saffron asparagus and rosemary lamb jus. Ingredients Lamb rump 180g lamb rump Salt and pepper to taste
Butternut squash puree 40g butternut squash 10ml vegetable stock 5g butter Salt and pepper to taste
Asparagus foam 50g asparagus Pinch of saffron 5g onion 2g garlic 15ml asparagus stock 10g cream Salt and pepper to taste
Mushroom duxelles 50g button mushrooms 10g onion 5g garlic 2g thyme 10ml veal jus Salt and pepper to taste
Blueberry jus 50g lamb jus 2g rosemary 5g butter Salt and pepper to taste
Method Lamb rump 1 Marinate the lamb with rosemary, salt and pepper.
2 Pan-sear the lamb and finish in the oven for 180°C/360°F for eight minutes
3 Take it out of the oven and rest.
Butternut squash purée 1 Chop and roast the butternut squash in the oven at 180°C/ 360°F for 45 minutes.
2 Pass through a fine strainer into a small pot and mix with vegetable stock. Finish with butter, salt and pepper, then purée.
Asparagus foam 1 Clean the asparagus, cut into pieces and blanch. Use leftovers to make a stock with saffron.
2 Sauté the onions and garlic, then add the saffron asparagus stock. Reduce it and add the cream. Remove from heat and toss together with the asparagus.
Mushroom duxelles 1 Chop the mushrooms, then sauté with chopped onion, garlic and thyme.
2 Add the veal jus, then season with salt and pepper.
Rosemary jus 1 Chop the rosemary and add to the lamb jus. Season with salt, pepper and butter.
Andy Zyla Age: 33 Nationality: Polish Time in Dubai: Eight months Current restaurant: The Address Montgomerie Dubai Previous experience: I worked for 11 years in England at various places, including Chelsea Art Club, and a gastropub called Earl Spencer. I also worked in tapas restaurant William IV, as well as at six or seven places in London.
How did you get involved in Battle of the Chefs? Basically, our chef de cuisine, David, took part before me. He lost, and I’m next!
What are you most looking forward to about this event? I’m looking forward to the creative challenge and doing something different – it’ll be good fun and something different for the guests.
What are you most nervous about? I don’t think I’m nervous. I’m just doing what I like to do and I’ll cook what I want to cook, and see what the outcome will be…
What’s your signature dish? It’s difficult to say. I cook everything from classic French to Japanese. I like to cook seasonal stuff, so it depends on what season it is. But I have to say that I like French cooking and heavy sauces – very classic French.
What was the last meal you cooked for yourself? When my fiancée was here I made some Thai rice with shrimps and asparagus. It was very Thai.
What’s in your fridge right now? I have a lot of fruits, milk, juices, eggs… and I think I have some Japanese udon noodles.
What are you strengths? Working under pressure.
Your weaknesses? Baking!
What’s more nerve-wracking – working in a top kitchen or cooking in front of an audience? Working in a top kitchen. Being in front of an audience is more of a show, but cooking in a top kitchen, you really have to look at what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. If it goes wrong, it’s really difficult to get back on track.
Which chef would you most like a cook-off against? There’s a restaurant back in London called Arbutus [in Soho]. The chef, Anthony Demetre, has one Michelin star, and his food is absolutely amazing. It’s very simple stuff, but very nicely cooked. If I had the opportunity to cook against him or even for him, it would be very nice.
Andy prepared a lamb tagine with couscous. Ingredients 4 lamb shanks 2 large courgettes, cut into chunks 3 large carrots, cut into chunks 1 butternut squash (approx 600g), peeled and cut into chunks 2 onions diced 4 garlic cloves ½ tsp ground cumin ½ tsp ground coriander ½ ground cinnamon 400g chopped tomatoes 2 tbsp ground almonds 1 large preserved lemon (available in good delis or Arabic markets), flesh removed and thinly sliced. skin only Chopped parsley and coriander to taste 1 pack ready-to-use couscous (available at Waitrose) 4 tbsp grapeseed oil Pinch of saffron threads Salt to taste 400ml chicken or lamb stock (can use cubes)
Method 1 Preheat oven to 185°C/365°F.
2 In a large pan, heat 2 tbsp of oil and sear the lamb shanks for 30 seconds on each side.
3 In a large casserole pan, heat remaining 2 tbsp of oil, add all spices and cook for 30 seconds.
4 Add all chopped vegetables; continue cooking for five minutes.
5 Add the chopped tomatoes, stock, saffron, lemon and almonds, then add seared lamb shanks.
6 Cook for 10 minutes, then cover tightly with aluminium foil and place in the preheated oven for three and a half hours.
7 Break off ends of the asparagus, place in boiling water for one minute, then remove and plunge into cold water to maintain the colour.
8 Boil the couscous.
9 The lamb is ready when the bone of the shank can easily be separated from the meat.
10 To serve, reheat the asparagus by placing in boiling water for 30 seconds, then mix with the couscous. Divide the lamb into four large bowls with generous amount of sauce and veg. Garnish with yoghurt and fresh mint leaves.
Maybe we were just being a bit silly asking the chefs to include chocolate in their recipe, since both excluded this ingredient. However, both recipes look fantastic – too close to call. You’ll have to head along to Battle of the Chefs on April 20 to see who comes out on top. Battle of the Chef tickets are Dhs275 (soft drinks), Dhs355 (house beverages); includes a three-course meal. Nineteen, The Address Montgomerie Dubai (04 390 5600)