Cooking under pressure at the Olympic competition
Frankfurt, West Germany
Canada's braised buffalo, South Africa's Cape antelope, norway's elk, and Japan's fish with seaweed sauce were some of the dishes cooked by top chefs from 23 countries at the 15th International Culinary Olympics in Frankfurt.
But of all the exotic native specialties, the gold medal winner was the United States for its economical Turkey Roll Oklahoma and Sea Bass St. Augustine.
Every day for a week, two countries cooked two entries each at lunch for the public at the International Restaurant. The Finns offered Reindeer Animelles Rosenthal and Veal Rolls With Macaroni Souffle.
The Yugoslav team, the only one with a woman chef, produced a fine traditional meal. Saddle of Lamb Southdown, cooked the same day by the English team, was pronounced excellent by visitors at my table.
Buffalo meat served by the Canadian team was very tender and a favorite menu served with wild rice and fiddlehead greens.
But the judges had made their decisions before any food left the kitchens, on the basis of skills of preparing and serving, taste and novelty, efficiency and orderliness.
With clipboard and pencil they would take away points for plates too full; or a dish that looked perfect might get no points for creativity.
A Yugoslav vegetable interested the judges because it was served as a potato substitute. Another judge added extra points to a dish for good taste.
This year's awards were given in three categories -- hot food, cold platter, and hot food displayed cold. Hot foods were judged by tasting, but cold food was judged on appearance.
The US gold medal was in the hot food category. Australia was second and South Korea third.
In the cold-platter category, West Germany was first, the US second, and Canada third. Germany was also first in the hot-food-displayed-cold category. Canada was second, Switzerland third.
All in all the United States accumulated 56 medals, including many individual awards in various categories. The US team, sponsored by Kraft Foodservice, collected an individual medal for each team member -- 11 golds and one silver.
The first day of the show a gold medal went to Lyde Buchtenkirch of hyde Park , N.Y., for best centerpiece of the day, an Americana statue she had made of bread dough.
Pastry Chef Helmut Loibl's gold medal represented perfect scores from all judges and was one of only two such special awards.
The Eastern Seaboard team, an independent team with team manager Franz Eichenauer, came away with 14 gold medals, 3 silvers, and 1 bronze.
Working with 5,000 pounds of food and equipment they brought to Frankfurt from New York, the team worked through many sleepless nights to have entries ready for each early morning of judging.
An international team sponsored by L.J. Minor Company won nine medals. Nan Shelton of Sacramento, Calif., and Dale Radomski of Honolulu also won medals for individual entries.
All four members of the Minnesota Culinary Team won bronze medals.
Chef Anton Mosimann of London's Dorchester hotel entered an a la carte main course and a dessert and won a gold medal for each.
On display during the week were chocolate Indians, castles, and wagons; salt paintings; a marzipan steamboat; saltillage and pastillage showpieces; and other culinary artistry.
Many countries showed colorful examples of specialized work such as shimmering spunsugar flower-and-fruit garlands by Austrian chefs and a spectacular cold buffet the Danes displayed on their famous Copenhagen blue-flower-pattern platters.
A medal went to Phillip Swar of Singapore for his four-foo-high statue of a winged-animal figure carved in butter. A striking table with food in gourds, baskets, and decorative art was exhibited by the Kenya Utalii College.
I asked Ludwig Sorgenfrei, president of the Geman Federation of Cooks, if the towering ice carvings and display pieces are still relevant to good cooking. He confirmed that there is still great interest in them in large hotels.
Mr. Sorgenfrei explained the system of judging to me, but I also got up at 5 oclock one morning to follow the judges around the huge exhibition hall with Uri guttman, a judge and captain of the Israeli team.
After seeing the methods used, including points taken off some of the Israel team's plates, I was convinced the system is a strict but a good one. Israel went home with several medals, incidentally.
France was not among the contestants this year, although in 1976 the French team tied for third place with the US. Rudolph Decker of the German team said that perhaps it didn't enter this year because the French chefs' association is split between the younger, progressive French chefs and the older traditionalists.
It takes tremendous organization plus financial backing and at least two years of practice to get most teams ready to compete, he said.
People asked why some of their favorite and well-known chefs didn't compete, but since the Culinary Olympics is organized for volume feeding operations, some of the top chefs who cook for small dining rooms or restaurants aren't interested. Some can't take the pace and pressure. Some just can't get away.
For most the experience is invaluable, and since the judging and competition is strict, it is a big accomplishment to win a medal of any kind.
Among the stumbling blocks are language barriers; the huge Messegelande exhibition halls; packing and flying native food to the site; and human nature.
This year's American team has several German-American chefs, which is naturally an advantage for communication.
Although only four are native Americans, the apprentices were all born and trained in the United States, and the US team is looking ahead, hoping to train more American-born chefs for the future.