Every two hours a chef wearing a towering white hat emerged from the kitchen of Hotel Finca Valverde, in Costa Rica’s north-central town of Monteverde, with a meticulously crafted dish atop an ivory colored platter.
Then, as each chef gently placed the sculpted cuisine on the central display table, anxious guests and competing chefs swarmed the table to catch of glimpse of the latest creation.
Upon presentation, each dish – appreciated for both its savory appearance and its intricate design – was welcomed with a chorus of “ooh’s” and “aah’s.”
All of the seven area chefs who participated in last Saturday’s (Oct. 24) chefs competition, sponsored by the Hotel Finca Valverde and its Don Miguel Restaurant, carefully prepared their finest, most scrumptious culinary delights to be judged by a panel of heavyweights in the culinary sciences and appreciated by some 150 visitors who dropped in to support local businesses, catch glimpses of the art of the feast, and allow their senses to take flight.
“This is the first time we’ve ever tried to do something like this, and we are so pleased to have so much support from the people of Monteverde,”said Asdrúbal Tenorio, head chef for the Don Miguel. “This event benefits Finca Valverde, the restaurants represented, the chefs and the entire city of Monteverde.”
Competition organizers Tenorio and Luis Valverde – a coowner of Hotel Finca Valverde and one of the five sons of Victor Valverde, president of the hotel and restaurant – aimed to attract the finest chefs in Monteverde in friendly competition and allow them to exhibit their art form. They hope to make the competition an annual event.
In addition to the fun of culinary competition, the organizers said they wanted to call attention to the tourist-heavy northwest mountain of about 7,000 people. In this vein, they enticed five prestigious Costa Rican chefs to serve as judges, one of whom was television personality Oscar Castro, host of the Channel 7 morning show “Buen Día.”
The panel of chef-jurors also included two professors from the InteramericanUniversity in Heredia, north of San José.
“We wanted to bring in chefs and cooking experts to serve as judges so they could give the chefs in the competition feedback and advice on what they could do to improve,” Luis Valverde said. “After they judged the presentation and tasted the food, they gave each chef ideas and recommendations on how they could improve their dishes.”
Throughout the day, the seven competing chefs were allotted one hour and forty-five minutes to prepare two dishes, including an appetizer (or introductory plate such as a salad or soup) and a main course. To satisfy the judges and display table, the chefs, each of whom worked with one assistant, made four samples of each platter, giving them just over 100 minutes to make eight premium plates. When time was up, each chef presented six plates of his or her cuisine to three judges who graded each platter on a 100-point scale, deducting points for any flaws in presentation, organization, texture, taste or accompanying wine selection. The other two judges monitored each chef ’s organization, preparation tactics and sanitary practices while in the kitchen. The remaining two plates were placed on the table for viewing pleasure.
At the completion of the cooking marathon, 14 delectable plates adorned the display table. Of them, several cuts of loin, lamb and duck sat atop cream-sauce bases and were garnished with bits of vegetables, such as asparagus or broccoli. Many of the plates were so beautifully prepared they seemed more like works of art than menu items.
“All the chefs knew what they were going to prepare before the competition,” Tenorio said. “The judges set specific requirements for the contest and the chefs chose dishes they thought would best satisfy what the judges were looking for.”
In the end, the judges praised the competitors for their efforts and applauded the culinary creations of the local chefs.
“Monteverde is in excellent hands with the wealth of talented chefs we judged here today,” said Castro at the conclusion of the contest. “It should be a very successful high season for Monteverde if visitors eat at the fantastic restaurants that the city has to offer.”
At the tail end of a drum-roll by the appreciative spectators, Castro announced the judge’s verdict. First place went to Manrique Saballas, of 100% Aventura Restaurant.
Saballas’ plate, called “Archipélago,” featured three small cuts of seasoned and browned tuna atop a cream sauce. Saballas, who graduated from culinary school in May, glowed with surprise and pleasure.
“There are seven great chefs here today, and I am surprised and very happy that the judges chose me,” Saballas said. “I’ve prepared the dish before, but not in a while. I’m glad that it turned out so well and that the judges enjoyed it.”
Yeimy Marín, a chef at the DonMiguelRestaurant, came in second place, and Monteverde Lodge chef Heiner Corrales finished third.
“Everyone who took part in the competition was a winner,” Tenorio said. “First place, second place, that doesn’t really matter. All the chefs learned from the responses they got from the judges, and all of them demonstrated the caliber of cooking they offer at each of their restaurants. This was a big day for us and for Monteverde. I can only hope the success from this year carries on for years to come.”
For information, call Hotel Finca Valverde at 2645-5157, or visit www.monteverde.co.cr.