Although England came home from the football without glory, in the Culinary World Cup chefs made the country proud. Captain Adam Thomason speaks after he struck gold with his team
Adam Thomason, captain of England's National Culinary Team, drove across Europe with a boot full of shot-to-order New Forest venison in November. The meat would be served to jurors at the Culinary World Cup and the chef was hoping he and the team would be loading medals into the luggage compartment for their return journey.
From the moment the senior team (comprising Thomason, Ed Marsh, Jamie Gibbs, Jamie Stones, Stacey Harris, Samantha Rain, Tomas Krasnan, culinary artist Chris Zammit and coach Paul Dickinson) arrived in Luxembourg, they were scrutinised, with judges taking notes on their techniques, work skills, workflow, mise en place, hygiene and food waste as well as the service, presentation and taste of the final dishes presented.
The first challenge for the team was the chefs' table, which saw a full tasting menu served to 12 guests incorporating snacks, a fish platter, a vegan dish, a beef main course, a dessert and petit fours. At the end of this challenge the team learned it had earned a silver medal.
Thomason says: "It was a phenomenal result for a team when most of the chefs had not competed on an international stage before. We were really happy with that result, but obviously it's not gold. So we then went away and had two days to regroup and come back for the next one."
The second challenge was the hot kitchen Restaurant of Nations, which saw three courses served to 110 guests in a restaurant-style service. In this challenge the team served a royale of chalk stream trout, supplied by sponsor ChalkStream trout, with a crusted crumb, smoked belly, Jerusalem artichoke purée, cucumber, Porthilly oyster and roasted fish velouté split with a dill oil. The main course showcased the New Forest venison, carefully transported in Thomason's boot to escape post-Brexit regulations. It had been shot by gamekeeper C Hutchinson DH Game before being hung by Billy Owton's family-run butcher for five weeks in its Himalayan salt chamber.
The loin of the venison was rolled in a cep and wakame powder and served alongside braised haunch, organic bespoke-grown celeriac from Norfolk, foraged brambles and Kentish cobnuts. The dish was accompanied by a ‘rich and decadent' port Madeira jus.
For dessert the team showcased Kentish damson plums, which were poached as well as being roasted and charred, and made into a mousse with Cornish clotted cream. This was served with sea salted almond and Fen Farm yogurt sorbet.
Best of British
When devising their menu, the team had the slogan ‘look closer', which saw them scrutinise every detail and ensure that behind every element and technique there would be a story. Thomason says: "In every single dish, if you were to look closer at the ingredient, the element or the menu wording, there was a story or the right connectivity behind that dish attached to it. With every element we were looking closer at how we made it sing on the plate.
With every element we were looking closer at how we made it sing on the plate
"Showcasing the best of British ingredients was something that we didn't have to do – it wasn't in the brief – but we felt so proud of our heritage and if you're going to represent your country, you want to represent the ingredients within it. We know we have some fantastic produce and we wanted to go and showcase that."
The team's efforts paid off and they received a gold medal for their Restaurant of Nations menu.
Thomason says: "[When it was announced] everyone was jumping around shouting and cheering. I think I just stood still.
"I've done a lot of individual competitions but to take a team to a gold medal and see that group of people jumping, shouting and cheering and ecstatic when we got the gold felt really good. To captain a team towards that was more than just an individual achievement."
Each team also had to present a National Showpiece that provided a link to their Restaurant of Nations menu. To represent the dishes served by the England team, culinary artist Chris Zammit of Sweet Bake Art created an intricately-designed chocolate sculpture of a deer's head with a weeping Mother Nature appearing from the back of its neck, which was awarded third place in the competition.
His inspiration was the destruction of nature by man, taking influence from the sustainable meat source used by the team for their main course. Sharing images of the sculpture on social media the team wrote: "The deer is the king of the forest and protector of all that lives, breathes, grows and hides there. It's time for us to take a stand, respect all we have, show gratitude, respect and give it back. What you take from the land must be returned."
Despite the success of the team the World Cup was not without its challenges, from the logistics of getting the team and produce to Luxembourg to a faulty blast chiller that required the pastry team to borrow space across five other kitchens during the Restaurant of Nations challenge.
But the team, who had been preparing since 2020 due to Covid-related delays, were ready. Thomason explains that together they had gone into every element of their plan in forensic detail, from the balance, texture and taste of the dishes themselves to ensuring the uniforms were comfortable and logistics were finalised to allow the team to focus on nothing but the cooking.
Thomason says: "You've got a team of chefs around you and you've been working towards a goal for the best part of two years. We all pulled together. There were a lot of challenges, but we just seemed to get that unity and that bond and we were all singing from the same hymn sheet."
Culinary Olympic 2024
The next challenge for the England Culinary Team will be the Culinary Olympics in March 2024. Thomason is hopeful that the success of the World Cup will encourage more chefs to join the British Culinary Federation, which the team sits under. He says: "Every competition should challenge your skills and put you out your comfort zone, in doing so growing your craft and ability. Competing at this level is a joy and a challenge, representing our country on a world stage is all the motivation you could ever need''
The junior team, who were nearly all alumni of University College Birmingham, have brought home bronze and silver medals from the World Cup, but Thomason says he would like to see aspiring chefs from across England getting involved.
Sponsorship is also key to the success of the team, denoting how many people can travel to events, the produce used and the amount of practice the team will have.
For more information, go to click here or contact Adam Thomason or Paul Dickinson.
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