Despite facing the odds after Hurricane Matthew took The Bahamas by storm, Sheldon Tracey Sweeting got both silver and bronze at the Culinary Olympics held in Erfurt, Germany October 17-22. Sweeting and well-known chef Ron Johnson competed in two individual chef competitions going up against 50 countries in all day culinary showdowns. Johnson was awarded a certificate, while Sweeting won silver and bronze. They both had the task of turning traditionally hot dishes into cold delicious pieces in five-course meals.
Before they left, the pair, who was sponsored by the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and other sponsors, admitted that they were challenged as Hurricane Matthew knocked out power in New Providence, forcing them to throw out hundreds of dollars worth of food and prep work.
Despite this, Sweeting impressed the judges with dishes like lightly smoked bay scallop wrapped with celery and vegetable, tomato water, trout roe; quail ‘deviled eggs with chicken liver parfait, beef-port gel, herb cracker; butternut squash tortellini with mushrooms-leek ragout, parmesan veloute; sweet chili glazed salted flank steak with corn tortilla and salsa; pickled red onion and avocado.
For his five course festive menu, Chef Sweeting prepared cured salmon and salmon pastrami with honey dill mustard, pickled cucumber and red onion; truffled breast of cornish hen and leg roulade with corn royal, quail egg, bell pepper flakes and Cornish hen-saffron boullion; tomato and buffalo mozzarella terrine with yellow tomato sorbet, semi dried tomato, balsamic jelly, basil aioli, tomato cracker; bacon wrapped pork tenderloin and sous vide pickling spice glazed baby back rib with gratinated potato, cabbage variation, pumpkin custard, poached apple madeira sauce.
For dessert, the chef made milk and white chocolate Bavarian chocolate, double chocolate brownie, red fruit textures, vanilla tapioca, strawberry ice cream and red fruit sauce.
The chef said he is proud to have performed so well for his country. He said the competition was a learning experience.
I have learnt better time management and discipline, and that I’ve got to spend even more time paying attention to simple details to go to the next level. Everything I do must be identical and balanced straight across the board. I’ve also learnt how the judges’ perspective of food truly differs from my perspective as a chef in terms of details and conceptualizing dishes; they think in terms of practicality in a day to day service operation in relation to the food the chef actually produces; this was an eye opener,” he said.
“I’ve learnt to be more critical and get more insight and seek the opinions form others to ensure that menus and dishes being prepared are on the right path regarding concepts I want to portray with my food and menus. I’ve learnt new ideas and techniques chef from other countries are doing, and how to try and incorporate those ideas in my cuisine. I was blown away by some of the work I saw and it was truly a humbling experience being around some of the best chefs in the world.”
The chef also shared what were the most challenging aspects of the competition.
“The most challenging part of the competition is trying to find a balance of exactly what the judges are looking for. The jury that judges the national teams is different from the jury that judges the individuals culinary arts category, and it seems it changes from competition to competition,” Chef Sweeting shared.
“Judging is very subjective so what one judge may look for the others may not, and vice versa. The long hours reminds me of Junkanoo when we Bahamians say, ‘ya getting left or Jeff,’ when you’re still pasting or putting on tricks as the first group is heading out of the gate so to speak. A chef can easily get six to eight hours sleep if that, within a span of 24-36 hours. So the long hours of getting your work out while striking the balance of what judges are looking for are the challenges.”
Chef Sweeting, who has been competing in the Culinary Olympics said it is a high possibility that he would return to compete against the world.
“Even though the competition was extremely tough and hard, I still feel a void in my career simply because I’ve not attain my goal of winning the Gold medal at the Olympics level,” he said.
“If I compete at IKA I know I’ll be better prepared with more experience and would also now have the help and support of a few other international chefs who have themselves, offered their assistance to guide me in the right direction with critiques and concepts.”
Chef Sweeting is one of The Bahamas’ decorated chefs and has competed in the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s (CTO) Taste of the Caribbean where he was inducted into the competition’s Hall of Fame.
He also sent a special message to other young chefs.
“My message to other Bahamian chefs is that if you are truly serious and passionate about your craft, then put your all into what your doing to be the best at what you do. Learn all that you can so that we can further develop Bahamian cuisine to showcase to the world,” he said.
“I feel more chefs need to get involved in culinary competitions because it would fast track theirs knowledge and careers of the culinary arts, plus they would be more updated on new trends and standards within the profession. I think that personally Bahamian chefs need to and should take a keen interest in investing in themselves and professionally, I think we as a people and nation need to take food more seriously, especially how tourism is our number one industry.
“We need more Bahamian chefs to step up and take the mantle to propel Bahamian cuisine to new heights, so that our voice will continue and consistently be heard throughout the region and the world.”