De­li­cious in Mau­ri­tius: top chefs go head to head

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

I’m al­ways de­lighted to be asked to judge a food or drink com­pe­ti­tion, even if it means stand­ing in a draughty church hall in the East Mid­lands de­cid­ing which of a dozen bizarrely flavoured pies tastes the least worst. So I jumped at the chance to be a jury mem­ber at the 13th an­nual Bernard Loiseau Culinary Fes­ti­val; good­bye East Mid­lands, hello sun-drenched Mau­ri­tius.

The fes­ti­val was hosted over nine days at two ho­tels – the Con­stance Prince Mau­rice and Con­stance Belle Mare Plage, where I stayed in a suite over­look­ing the pris­tine white-sand beach and the In­dian Ocean. It’s one of many ini­tia­tives to draw vis­i­tors out­side the De­cem­ber/Jan­uary peak sea­son but it also has a higher pur­pose. “It’s about cel­e­brat­ing Bernard Loiseau’s life and val­ues,” said Michael Caines, a for­mer com­peti­tor and guest chef here who is chef/pa­tron of Lymp­stone Manor in Devon. In the Nineties he worked at Loiseau’s three-Miche­lin-star La Côte d’Or in Bur­gundy, where he says the late chef treated him like a son. Loiseau may not be a house­hold name, but this year the fes­ti­val at­tracted the likes of French pâtissier Pierre Hermé; Mer­cotte (the French equiv­a­lent of Mary Berry), who presents the French ver­sion of

David Moore of Pied à Terre in Lon­don; and Har­ald Wohlfahrt, one of Ger­many’s most fa­mous chefs.

The week was packed with com­pe­ti­tions for wait­ers, bar­tenders, som­me­liers and pas­try chefs, as well as the main culinary com­pe­ti­tion con­tested by six Miche­lin-starred chefs from Europe and their Mau­ri­tian mentee chefs. My du­ties were lim­ited to a morn­ing judg­ing the Deutz Tro­phy, a canapé-and­cham­pagne pair­ing con­test which saw the six chefs trans­form taro – a dense, fi­brous and al­most taste­less root – into del­i­cate morsels. Pol­ish chef Andrea Ca­mas­tra, of Senses in War­saw, pre­sented a dish of taro and co­conut marsh­mal­low with taro chips and smoked cheese, while Mark Kemp­son, of Kitchen W8 in Kens­ing­ton, pre­pared taro pan­cakes, scal­lop tartare and Mau­ri­tian or­ange.

That left me plenty of time to at­tend events, in­clud­ing a cook­ery demon­stra­tion by Pa­trick Bertron, head chef at La Côte d’Or, and some of the many gala din­ners. Eat­ing tuna tar­tar with lo­cal palm heart and co­conut chut­ney on a float­ing deck in a la­goon at the Prince Mau­rice’s Le Bara­chois restau­rant, with fire­works ex­plod­ing in the back­ground, is not some­thing I’ll for­get any time soon.

The clos­ing cer­e­mony was held on a sul­try evening at Belle Mare Plage with the crowd milling around a stage fac­ing the beach, cock­tails in hand with the sun set­ting be­hind. After a stir­ring speech by Do­minique Loiseau (Bernard Loiseau’s widow), the win­ners were re­vealed. Bri­tain came third while Ger­man chef Michael Reis won both the main com­pe­ti­tion and the canapé con­test (his brown but­ter con­fit of taro with saf­fron, pear, raw palm heart and macadamia nuts was a stroke of ge­nius, pick­ing up the cham­pagne’s rich, toasty notes).

While it had been an easy gig for me, it was a de­mand­ing week for the com­peti­tors. “It was harder work than I’d an­tic­i­pated,” said Kemp­son. “The space in the kitchen was tight

Mixol­ogy at Con­stance Belle Mare Plage

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