Tips from the team & mastering aspic techniques
Hot food presented cold
The ten most common mistakes in cold food displays
These mistakes made by competitors when presenting cold food are in no particular order although the no.1 mistake must go at the top of any list such as this and that is without doubt poor aspicing skills.
1) Poor aspic skills
This is dealt with later in some depth but remember at all times that the quality of the aspic work can mean the difference between a gold and a silver medal. It should not be applied as an afterthought. Apart from protecting the food from drying out the aspic makes the dish look appetising and protects the colours. If it takes 2 hours before the judges then without proper aspicing it will certainly deteriorate.
2) Interpretation of the rules
Read the rules again and again and again and if you are still in any doubt contact the organisers to seek clarification. The competition will always be judged according to their interpretation of the rules and not yours ! If the rules state numbers of portions or quantities then make sure that you adhere 100% to what is requested. It is a weak excuse to say afterwards " but i did not know that!"
3) Practical portion sizes
The guideline for restaurant dishes when presented cold is approximately 50% smaller than what you would normally expect in a restaurant and this should never be exceeded in competitions. Choose a plate to suit your portion sizes and not portion sizes to suit your plate.
4) Poor combinations
Nouvelle cuisine is behind us now so there is no need to set out to shock the judges with strange combinations on the plate. Maybe there is a market for barbequed catfish with beetroot noodles or pink grapefruit and coriander soup but it certainly is not the competition arena so think through the compatibility of the ingredients you wish to display.
5) Presentations that cannot be practically reproduced
Restaurant dishes are supposed to be exactly that - restaurant dishes !! If you cannot prepare the same dish in a commercial kitchen for 50 portions then it is by definition not a restaurant dish. Rather make 8 portions of it and present it as a show platter.
Punctuality is of the utmost importance. There is nothing more unprofessional or more frustrating for organisers or judges than to see competitors arriving late with their exhibits and in a total flap wanting to retouch dishes just as the judging is about to start.
7) What are you trying to achieve ?
Don not keep it a secret, tell the judges what the dish is called, give them a brief description of the main ingredients and method of cookery and present it neatly typed beside your entry. The judges are not infallible and may not be able to identify what you have used or how you have cooked the dish - do not embarrass them by leaving them in the dark.
8) Setting your sights too high
Everyone makes this mistake over and over again but you must make a real effort to keep your dish within your personal level of expertise. Do what you can do and do it well and do not worry about what other people are doing. If you cannot pipe chocolate motifs flawlessly then do not attempt it, rather leave it to someone who can do it perfectly. Concentrate on your strengths and do not highlight your weaknesses.
9) Unsuitable serving dishes
This may seem elementary but it is amazing what some competitors use in order to be different. Hot food is not served on mirrors even when it is hot food presented cold. Cold food is not served in copper frying pans. Choose a medium that makes sense and is practical.
10) Repetition of preparation methods
The judges are looking for different textures, colours, cooking methods, displays of culinary skills - avoid repetition of skills, shapes, textures, tastes, colours, ingredients and ideas. Try to display compatible cookery methods.