Delicious in Mauritius: top chefs go head to head
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