Two things are abundant in Kuwait; blogs and food! Hit any of the blogs and you’ll find countless reviews of the hot new culinary spot to try during the weekend, hit any of the new culinary hotspots and you’re sure to find a blogger there eating. But what about these bloggers, how do their cooking skills measure up? It seems Olga and Victor from Chef Boutique, Ahmed Al Hendi from Food Maestros and Basma Al Musallam from 13Cups Blog had been wondering the same thing…
Chef Boutique opened up its kitchens to the bloggers of Kuwait for two weekends in June for Project X, a Chopped-style cooking competition. The guys at Chef Boutique are well-known for teaching gourmet cooking so you can recreate restaurant food at home, and so the competing bloggers were assured of feeling right at home in Chef Boutique’s kitchens.
The concept was simple. Twelve teams registered to compete. On day one, six teams would face-off and three would be eliminated. On the second day another six teams would trade culinary blows, again with three teams progressing. The six triumphant teams from the first two rounds would reconvene a week later, rested and ready to cook, to see who would claim the esteemed title of Project X Champion – aka the best blogging cook in Kuwait!
Battling it out on that first day were; Froyo Nation Blog, Moodie Blog, Swera, Fried Junk Blog, Chapter Q8 and The Triple Sisters. The second day saw Urban Q8, His-Hers, PinkGirl Blog, Our Family Nest Blog, Elderwaza and Q8Rain mixing it up in the Chef Boutique kitchen. They competed over two rounds (creating two unique dishes) with points awarded for taste, presentation and originality. They had forty-five minutes to prepare and a further forty-five minutes to cook the dishes. Who would be tasting their creations? Some of the most interesting and fascinating culinary gurus in town, including Chef Mongkon from Chef Boutique, Jumana Al Othman, certified foodie and restaurateur Basil Al Salem, Ziad Al Obaid, and the fitness driven yet Nutella-inclined, Fahad AlYehya from Core Fitness and the infamous blog, Trying to be Fahad.
Not wanting to make it too easy on these foodie bloggers, the judges prescribed a main ingredient that had to be used for each round. On day one; mango and blue cheese, respectively. Day two saw, avocado for Round 1 and bacon for Round 2. To further shake things up, the second round on both days included a devious ‘Judge’s Joker’ ingredient, with honey and maple syrup on day one and a conniving Nutella on day two. This was introduced after the preparation period, forcing the bloggers to rethink their meal choices and cook out of the box. Al Hendi recounts the experience with an evil laugh; “They were all so stunned at the concept of combining Nutella with avocado and bacon. The looks on their faces were simply priceless.”
Triumphing on that first weekend, Froyo Nation Blog, Moodie, The Triple Sisters, Urban Q8, His-Hers and Elderwaza, all returned the following weekend for the final. Knives had been sharpened, aprons had been tied, appetites had been whetted – the contest consisted of a single round with a sixty-minute preparation period and sixty-minute cooking time. This time however, they had to work with two prescribed ingredients for preparation, with a choice of Lamb Ribs and apples OR Sea bream and apricot reserve. After taking in this first shock of contrasting ingredients, the contestants were ready. Only then, when they were ready to cook, did the Judge’s Joker surface again in the form of not one, or two, but three components: Kafir lime, Vanilla Pods, and preserved lemons. A stress-filled sixty minutes of ‘colorful’ cooking later, Elderwaza emerged as the creator of the tastiest dish and was crowned Project X Champion.
After the fun and frenzied games were over, we had to sit down with the evil masterminds, Victor, Olga, Ahmed and Basma, who all recounted the culinary festivities with amusement and surprise. Victor states, “Oddly enough, none of the entrants have been at a cooking competition before, yet they are all foodies, and that’s where we were truly amazed.” Al Hendi excitedly adds, “It was full of surprises, Basma expected certain contestants to win, yet the results totally were unexpected. We could see during the qualifying rounds how the dishes were improving, and the confidence of the contestants grew bolder. For the finals, these amateur cooks produced unexpected results, gaining points in originality. Everyone was creative!”
When it came to organizing the nitty gritty details, the team of organizers greatly valued the support of Ahmed Al Hendi, as his experience from Food Meastro last year, a similar cooking competition likened to a Masterchef face-off, had already instilled the principals of competition in him. As a team, the evil masterminds behind Project X are truly fit for the daunting task of organizing a full-fledged cooking competition. Yet, were the contestants intimidated by the competition?
Olga explains, “We made sure to provide them with a training crash-course in the form of a briefing session before the first day of competition took place.” Victor adds, “The training course was as much fun as the competition, it was a team building exercise and a cooking one at the same time. Besides learning to work together, plan, and strategize, it exposed bloggers to the food preparation side of cooking; helping them to understand the full process of what goes into any kind of dish, as they can now be more discerning and demanding when dining.“
The end result, everyone’s a winner, thanks to the dedicated team that made it all happen. Al Hendi comments, “We had such a great time, even though getting people organized, and dealing with so many things at the same time posed technical difficulties. But, somehow, it all worked out!” Victor concurs, “Project X may have been operationally challenging, yet with the help of our sponsors, we made it happen. We owe them a huge thanks, it would have been impossible without them!”
For more information, visit chefboutique.com.kw.