Cooking their way to glory

Rokiah Mahmud

Twelve local chefs from Royal Brunei Catering (RBC) put on medal-winning performances at an international cooking competition, and their achievements have not only made RBC proud, but have also brought the name of Brunei Darussalam to the eyes of the culinary world.

Driven with their passion for culinary adventure, from September 24-27, 2019, the 12 chefs packed their ingredients, skills and knowledge and flew to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to participate in the Culinaire Malaysia 2019 competition.

The prestigious event – dubbed the ‘Malaysian Battle of the Chefs’ – attracted more than 1,500 entries and more than 1,000 culinary professionals. The competition provided a platform of high recognition, with contenders all the way from ASEAN member countries, Europe and the Middle East gathering under one roof to compete and test their skills, techniques and presentation and gain international exposure.

At the individual challenges, in the Fish/Seafood Main Course (Western category), Brunei Chefs did well with Andy Chong Kai Siong winning gold, Samliwati binti Haji Damit silver and Sofiandy bin Haji Mahadi bronze.

For Meat / Poultry Main Course (Western cuisine), bronze medals were won by Mohammad Alaisa Fadhillah bin Rosli, Muhammad Hasdi bin Rahman and Mohammad Faizal bin Mohamad.

In Malaysian Heritage Cuisine, Mohammad Khairuddin bin Manap won gold and Abdul Aziim bin Halim won a bronze medal.

For the Artistic Showpiece, Ahmad bin Mansor won silver and Irene binti Haji Ahmad won bronze.

RBC team in a group photo with their medals. PHOTO: ROKIAH MAHMUD
ABOVE & BELOW: Chef Ahmad shares his experience; Chef Irene and Chef Samliwati; and General Manager of RBC Haji Jeff Hadiman bin Dato Paduka Haji Danial. PHOTOS: ROKIAH MAHMUD

ABOVE & BELOW: The musical instruments artistic showpiece by Chef Irene; and the Tea Pot artistic showpiece by Chef Ahmad.

Chef Samliwati explains about her dish.

For the team challenges, in the MLA Golden Bull Culinary Challenge the team that was represented by team leader Mohd Shahril bin Abu Rahim, Randy bin Jeffrey, Andy Chong Kai Siong and Samliwati won silver in the semi-final round and the first-runner up trophy in the final round.

For the Malaysian Avant-Garde Cuisine Challenge, RBC was represented by team leader Samliwati, Ahmad bin Mansor, Randy and Mohammad Faizal who won the bronze medal.

Team leader Chef Mohd Shahril explained that more than half of the participating chefs competed for the first time. Some of them were nervous and did not expect to achieve such a feeling of glory and pride.

“It was a wonderful experience and was tough, yet I believe nothing is impossible,” he said.

On how the chefs were selected to represent RBC at the Culinaire Malaysia 2019, Chef Shahril explained that around 40 chefs within RBC sent their products to be judged, marked and observed.

“After that we selected the best 11 and briefed them about the deal in this competition. Once selected, they had to put their full commitment and needed to attend training for six months. I also told them that during the training, it might finish late – sometimes up to two o’clock in the morning.”

He highlighted that the training was tough, and they encountered many mental and physical obstacles challenges. “Those who were really determined to be part of this challenging experience – this is their benchmark to climb the ladder and be on par with those established chefs in the country.”

Those who joined the competition were influenced by the first batch group that went to the same competition back in 2017. They saw their colleagues bring back medals, while last year some of the team went to Jakarta for another culinary competition and also managed to bring back medals.

“I always believe that these young local chefs have talent and potential to grow further and since RBC provides the platform and opportunity for them, we hold international competitions.

“Some of those participating chefs in this preliminary round have previously been selected for the Culinaire Malaysia competition, but they were not selected and did not manage to be the best 11. Instead those first timers represented half of the team.”

“At the same time, I also shared with them my experience, the process and what obstacles as well as challenges that I encountered during my time joining the competition,” he continued. “I needed them to be fully committed and dedicated. If there is one person unable to commit, they will drag others along.

“We have pools of talent and must not look down on their capabilities. They put so much effort and they excel just as they have shown in their medal colours.”

One of the participating chefs who competed in the Artistic Showpiece was Chef Ahmad Mansor. Sharing his experience, he explained that at that time he tried to look at Brunei’s landmarks or arches that could be created into an artistic showpiece, and subsequently chose the Tea Pot located at one of the roundabouts in Kuala Belait.

“For six months I tried to define this masterpiece, but towards the day we were about to depart, I faced logistical issues on how it can be boarded on flights,” he said, noting that it had to be put in cargo during their journey to Kuala Lumpur. Unfortunately, both his and Irene’s sugar creations broke.

“I believe it was a test from Allah the Almighty and luckily my category was on the last day of competition and we had one week to repair the products. We bought all the items needed and recreated the sugar piece. Alhamdulillah, it all went well and both of us managed to get silver and bronze medals.”

General Manager of RBC Haji Jeff Hadiman bin Dato Paduka Haji Danial explained that the success of the RBC delegation at the competition is all about the chefs themselves, and he highlighted that the chefs achieved a lot.

He said that the competition was very tough as they had to challenge legitimate competitors from countries around the region such as Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand. Many of these contenders have had significant training as they are comprised of sous chefs, chefs and senior chefs who have been seasoned joining this culinary competition.

He noted the RBC chefs who joined the competition were all locals, some of whom have actual training while some neither have certification nor proper background training but have passion in learning through experience, undergoing training during their working hours at RBC and showed talent.

“They worked really hard. They knew they all would be going for this competition about six months ago and were determined to be trained,” he said.

“They worked about eight to 10-hour shifts every day and as we know, the life of a chef is really hard, working with food and on their feet.

“They would maybe work after midnight to train for this competition. It was a huge deal for them and they sacrificed a lot of their personal time.

“Our Head of Culinary Chefs, Chef Mohd Shahril, after working hours trained, groomed, worked and taught them as much as he could to get them ready for this competition.

“All of these chefs who participated in this big competition came from airline catering and all different restaurants, some veteran and some young. All of them came back stronger and we are so proud of them.”

Haji Jeff Hadiman noted that, two years ago, in 2017, RBC sent a team of five chefs, while this year’s delegation is the biggest contingent that RBC has ever sent.

“They worked hard, competed and performed the best they could in front of hundreds of people, cooking non-stop in different rounds, competing with other countries in front of many people.

“We saw emotion, happiness, tears, hugging, high-fiving, cheers of happiness – the emotion was beautiful,” he added. “We are so happy to announce that in every competition that we joined in Culinaire Malaysia, we managed to achieve medals in each category. We managed to get gold, silvers and bronzes.”

He added, “During the grand finale in the team category, the team managed to secure second place, winning a cash price and proving that they are the second best team in the entire region. With this,

they come back stronger and proved that they had attained skills that are shown on their respective winning medals.”