In our household, we are pretty addicted to Master Chef Australia. Hubby and I take great pleasure in putting bets on contestant rankings, and I’ve always been in awe with the judging skills and straight-up informative feed back Chefs Gary, George and Matt seem to be able to give at the drop of a hat.
We are foodies. I blog about food, yet actually being a judge at a cooking contest perturbs me. And then I had the honor of being invited onto the judging panel of the annual Grandma’s Recipe Contest in Arabian Courtyard & Spa this month! Absolutely honored, I decided to give it a go and put on my Master Chef hat 🙂
About the Grandma’s Recipe Contest:
Grandmothers are very special people, and perhaps one of the greatest inheritances most women carry along with them is a legacy of their cooking style.
My paternal grandmother was an expert with pickles, and her kitchen would always be lined with glass jars of interesting concoctions, catching the warmth of the sun to age and enhance the flavors to a greater intensity. As children, my cousins and I used to sneak our pudgy little fingers into the sticky sweet mango pickles while she had her afternoon siesta. After all, stolen fruit is always the sweetest! Sadly I never learnt her secret recipe, but one I do treasure and make very often in my own kitchen is the very aromatic, pan-cooked chicken roast my maternal grandmother taught me. Even my five year-old loves it, and I hope she too will make this for her brood.
Arabian Courtyard & Spa celebrates the love and legacy of grandmothers, and every year, the hotel invites ladies (men too, but I’ve never seen a male contestant here till date!) to rediscover that special dish. Perhaps its an exact ‘hand me down’ recipe, perhaps it has changed down the generation gap, but what they are looking for here is an immaculate creation that ticks all the boxes for taste, texture and presentation.
This year marks the 8th annual Grandma Recipe Contest, and Arabian Courtyard & Spa received a whopping 130 entries. This list was drastically shortlisted to a top 10 who were invited into the kitchens of the hotel’s Mumtaz Mahal restaurant.
The group of 10 were split into 2. They cooked in batches of 5, each being given 3 hours to prep and cook. The final dishes were being judged according to the following criteria:
- Timing (10 point)
- Colour (10 points)
- Texture (10 points)
- Presentation (20 points)
- Taste (50 points)
We were a team of four. On the panel with me was Ritu Chaturvedi, my fellow blogger and friend who’s website Fuss Free Cooking is an encyclopedia of different styles of cuisine. As an arts teacher, Ritu also has a keen eye for detail and has established herself as a talented food stylist.
The third judge was Arabian Courtyard & Spa’s very own Executive Head Chef Glen Ferdinand who overseas all the different restaurants within the hotel.
And the fourth judge was Rakesh Puri, Dubai’s very own resident celebrity chef! This was the first time I met Mr. Rakesh, and it was an absolute pleasure chatting with him about the various styles of Indian cooking, his 20 published cook books and simple tips and tricks that make cooking a breeze. Rakesh Puri is an aeronautical engineer by profession, but his true love has always been cooking. This led him to setting up his very own publishing house from where he churned out a total of 20 cook books to date. His book, The Super Indian Cookbook IV — Starters, Salads and Snacks, won the best Asian Cuisine Cookbook in the World at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. As a veteran cooking competition judge, he gave me invaluable tips on what to look out for:
- As a judge, you often have so many dishes to try. It would therefore be unfair to really dig into each and every one of them. Rakesh gave me the example of his experience at judging a Chicken Curry contest where they had to choose a winner out of 150 contestants. It would be impossible to try everything, so the trick is to mentally shortlist 10 to try based on presentation, texture, and use of ingredients. Note to contestants: Presentation is key!
- Taste, not eat! As a judge, we are not feasting (yet!). Rakesh advised us to take a spoonful, and let it swirl around the tastebuds. How are the flavor components? Do they work together? What are the special cooking skills used to create this dish? Is the texture pleasing on the palate? Note to contestants: Cook a small portion, but make it count! You only get one spoonful to win the judges over.
- Everything on the plate has to be there for a reason. Rakesh gave me the example of a lady who went through great pain to create a very elaborate, hand-carved vegetable bouquet to go with a dish she had prepared for a contest. She didn’t win. Note to contestants: Time is precious. Allocate it wisely into your main dish.
The Final Verdict
The final dishes looked absolutely spectacular! I had to keep reminding myself these were novice home cooks. Each entrant did her grandmother proud, and it was a tough call skimming down to a top three.
The third runner up was Mrs. Fahmeena Yasmeen. She prepared a very wholesome Deccani Mutton Soup, enriched with the richness of cashews and saffron, and laced with the characteristic heat of freshly ground black pepper.
The second runner up was Mrs. Shaheena Khan. She put up a very enticing Nawabi Murg Musallam served with Saffron Sweetcorn Rice on the side. The dish looked aesthetically pleasing, and tasted even better.
The judges unanimously chose Mrs. Naheed Parveen as the Arabian Courtyard Grandma’s Recipe Cooking Contest winner for her exceptionally delicious Awadhi Murgh Chaanp. The gravy was decadently rich and nutty, and made us want to go back for more!
With a little time on her hands, Mrs. Naheed also prepared an absolutely delicious serving of Egg Halwa which the judges cleaned up in no time! It didn’t really sync with the curry, but went to show that she really is a very talented cook. Her winning Awadhi Murgh Chaanp will be added to the Mumtaz Mahal menu.
The winners were awarded vouchers by ‘L.Sunderdas Zaveri Jewelers ‘, one of the UAE’s leading wholesale brand and retail jewelry stores in Dubai.
Habib Khan, General Manager of Arabian Courtyard Hotel & Spa, said “We are delighted to hold this special event and warmly congratulate the participants and the winners for our Grandma’s recipe contest. The creativity and dedication observed by these participants while cooking is remarkable; and according to me all of them are the winners. We started this contest 8 years ago with an aim to reach out to all the aspiring chefs especially house wives and people who take pride in exhibiting their culinary skills to a larger audience. We are proud to say that every year the magnitude of the contest is growing and exceeding our expectations with record no. of entries for participation.”