I was up early to get a leg up on the day. After breakfast I checked in on the seminar. After watching Saul open the session and the American Chargé d’Affaire (person who is the ambassador to Uruguay in the absence of the Ambassador) deliver a very quick speech to the group. I decided I better start to tackle the prep I needed to get done.
I went down to the kitchen and Roberto set me up with what I needed and my own table to prep. Of course it was not as easy as that. The rest of the crew was prepping for the lunch the group was going to eat and I had to work around them. I also had to rustle up all of my own equipment. I was amazed at how little equipment they had to produce the food the hotel needs each day.
They have about 8 burners for the hotel banquet area and just a few ovens. The pastry section has another oven, but overall the cooking selection was slim. All I needed was a burner to cook off my potato flakes, make the vichyssoise and the saffron broth. I prepped my potatoes and sliced them really thin on a japanese mandoline that the Sous Chef Sebastian loaned me. I blanched the slices of Purple Majesty, Mountain Rose and Cal White potatoes in low temp oil and then it was my hope to put them on silpats and bake them in the oven until they were crisp. The varieties of potatoes I was working with were new varieties I had never worked with and they had also been stored for awhile. They just fell apart when I tried to separate them on the silpat. Then when I put them in their combi oven, they started to brown too quickly. I tried to get the kitchen staff to help me turn down the heat and fans of the combi, but you could tell no one in the kitchen really knew how to use it. This explains how clean it was. They loaned me the dullest knife in the house, which reinforced my all time rule of always travelling with my own knives.
The time for my Power Point presentation was quickly approaching so I dropped everything and headed back up to the seminar. They were having a coffee break, then Sarah Mahler would come up to present and I would be next.
Presenting in front of a group of people who speak a different native tongue and whom you have no connection to presents a different challenge. When I lecture in front of my students in Denver, I roughly know what’s in it for them and how to stimulate their interest. In this environment, I was going out on a limb.
The time to present came up very quickly and before you knew it I was on the podium. There were simultaneous translators there to translate the Spanish into English for the visiting crew and English to Spanish for the locals. I opened up with Spanish, but quickly switched over to English. I saw all the Spanish speaking audience put on their headphones to hear what I was saying. I was off and running.
Advice to all people that might find themselves in this situation at some point in their lives. Stick to what you know and say it with conviction.
I think it went over well and I could tell I definitely had some people’s attention by their facial expressions. The message was simple. Diversity is opportunity, security, health and creativity. I finished talking about the 3 top food trends in the US, which are Local, Organic and Health.
I had lunch with the group and I was able to meet a local grocer and the president of the Punte del Este restaurant association. Punte del Este is the St. Tropez or Miami of S. America.
I went back to the kitchen after the lunch to finish my mise en place. This time there was little else going on in the kitchen and I could get more accomplished. Instead of frying my potato flakes at low temp and then baking them, I just went right to frying them at high temp to save time. Peter Joyce went to the airport to pick up some other potatoes namely yukon golds which worked like a charm. I was able to finish my potato leek soup with the help of Sebastian. At some point Santiago Cerisona a wild haired young man in chefs gear came to the kitchen. He was the third chef to present on that day. He was working on a potato terrine wrapped in pancetta. He had most of his prep done ahead. I had a few more elements to put together for my potato wrapped sea bass. I scurried around the kitchen trying to find some kind of silver pitcher to pour my potato soup out of, but could find none. At one point I asked the pastry department if they had a blow torch and they handed me this large propane tank with a blow torch wand. OK that is different I thought.
We assembled all on the cart and Santiago and I went up the elevator. Roberto and Sebastian were already set up for their demo. After the panel discussion was over they turned their attention to the Sheraton chefs. Roberto and Sebastian put on a nice show and made a potato risotto and different potato cubes filled with ceviches. Then I came up next and did my demo. The potato flakes dish was pretty quick and in retrospect I could have made the base for the soup in front of them, but I was affraid I would not have the equipment I needed. I had two very large burners to sauté on and very little other equipment. I put together the potato flake soup and then went on to demo the use of the japanese turning slicer. This definitely caught their attention. I wrapped the fish in the super thin and long strands of potato and fried them to a nice crips gold. I heated up the saffron broth and the spinach. I plated the dish and I was done.
Santiago came up and did his presentation. You could tell he was a showman and was working the crowd. He did his seared potato terrine and then fried a sampling of different potato varieties. Interestingly enough we all chose the same varieties without consulting each other.
I met with a few people who expressed interest in doing some kind of exchange in the future. Santiago gave me the contact info for the winery he was the chef at, so I could visit the following day.
Later that evening we had a victory celebration at La perdrix a restaurant right beside the Sheraton. The event had gone well and it was time to celebrate over more grilled steak and Tannat. The restaurant felt bad that they had put us in the smoking section so they brought out some sparkling wine and at the end of the meal they brought out some limoncello. Needless to say I slept very well that night.