Star-Bulletin Features

Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Winning chef Steyn Van Wyk finishes his baked
almond brandy pudding.

Battle of
young chefs tests
ingenuity and

They must prepare a
meal with an array of
mystery ingredients

By Michelle Ramos

While most people were thinking about the Pearl Harbor premiere and World War II, nine young chefs, all 27 or younger, were at Kapiolani Community College preparing for a war of their own, the Chaine's Jeunne Commis (Young Chefs) Competition.

The annual battle began this year at 8 a.m. Saturday. The young chefs' mission was to plan and prepare a three-course meal for four people in three hours using 10 secret ingredients.

Each chef entered a stainless-steel battlefield carrying toolboxes and bags housing their personal weapons -- knives, pastry cutters, ring molds, etc. With an army of one, a personal helper assigned by the college, the young chefs waited for their ammunition, the mystery baskets.

The chefs came from all over -- Bermuda; Texas; North Carolina; Washington, D.C.; Kentucky; Florida; California and Hawaii. They had already proved themselves by winning regional cooking battles held near their hometowns.

Alex J. Friedman, second-place winner,
works on his dessert.

Theodore Fleury of California entered his spotless area first. The rest of the chefs followed one by one in 15-minute intervals. It took Fleury eight minutes to plan his menu, and when it was time for his first dish to be taken to the six judges, Fleury was already armed and ready. He had his first course plated 40 seconds before his deadline.

Then came judging. Chefs Alan Wong of Alan Wong's Restaurant, Guido Ullman of Hilton Hawaiian Village, Wilhelm Pingruber of Hilton Waikoloa and George Mavrothalassitis of Chef Mavro restaurant were joined by food connoisseurs Pamela Young and Warren Shon. They scrutinized Fleury's crisp-skinned opakapaka and prawn with eggplant-basil ragout, then rated the dishes for presentation, originality and taste. Chef Rotisseur Christopher J. Speere, assistant professor of Maui Community College, was the kitchen judge, tallying points for organization and sanitation.

The young chefs had to use a portion of or all of the 10 mystery ingredients (macadamia nuts, almond paste, long green beans, opakapaka, sweet potatoes, pineapple, fresh ginger, Asian eggplant, shrimps and pork tenderloin). The chefs could also use anything in the well-stocked pantry.

Winner of the competition was Steyn Van Wyk, a chef at the Breakers restaurant in Palm Beach, Fla. This was Van Wyk's first mystery basket competition. It took him 15 minutes to plan his menu. "You want a little bit of sweet, a little bit of sour, a little bit of hot, a little bit of cold," Van Wyk said. "It must balance and intertwine." Van Wyk also prepared himself by concocting dishes from six or seven mystery boxes given to him by his boss and friends.

The greatest challenge was working in a foreign kitchen, Van Wyk said. "You don't know the faults and plusses of the kitchen."

Van Wyk's winning menu consisted of pan-seared opakapaka served with lemon long beans, pineapple mango relish and a Pernod shrimp sauce; roasted pork tenderloin with tomato eggplant caviar, sweet potato fondant, braised vegetables and a sherry gastrique; and baked almond brandy pudding served with steeped blueberries, crispy tuille and macadamia nut praline.

He now moves up to the international competition where he will compete against 20 chefs in Istanbul in September.

The second- and third-place chefs also built their menus on an opakapaka main dish, both flavored with pineapple and ginger.

Alex J. Friedman of the Baltimore Estate in North Carolina took second place; third place went to Chris Bennett, a chef instructor at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco.

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