The Gekkeikan Masters Cooking Competition Finals

So this happened.

I think I still need that pinch.

(Now updated with official competition photos!)

As you guys know, I entered my Drunken Hainanese Chicken Rice and Strawberry Sake Mousse recipes into the Gekkeikan Masters Cooking Competition, and got into the finals. The finals happened today, hence the unusual lack of posting on Tashcakes! this weekend – although a hybrid birthday cake for a friend did happen. More on that in another post.

I entered the kitchen of newly-opened restaurant Ichiryu at 9:30 this morning, a little zippier than usual thanks to a quadruple-shot coffee downed in a nearby Starbucks half an hour beforehand. Caffeine aside, I was glad to have my friend and fellow contestant Vai for company in an unfamiliar and unusual situation. After an initial period of 'where-is-everything-and-how-does-it-work' disorientation, all contestants quickly got into the flow of things.

Everyone take a moment to appreciate my tiny  pink saucepan. Also, dramatic sauce-pouring shot!

Timing was the biggest challenge for all of us, but everyone pulled out all the stops. Far from being stressed out by the weird situation we were all in, it seemed to create a sense of camaraderie amongst us. The staff and organisers were very kind, too. At one point I found myself sat cross-legged on the floor, chocolate-smothered paintbrush in one hand like some sort of crazy artist, jabbing at random buttons on the microwave with the other, trying to force it into doing my bidding. They were all quite patient with my allergy to technology, and were as happy to help me the fifth time as the first.

Kim, the event organiser, making sure everything's running smoothly. Lord knows what I'm doing in this shot.

Being filmed during the event was definitely the most novel part of it for me. At home when I cook I usually put my headphones on and get on with it. If no-one's around there might be some humming or singing (and, if the house is empty and I'm listening to KPop, there'll probably be a little dancing too). The terror of being caught on camera meant no singing or dancing. Although I did manage to catch myself humming just in time, at one point!

"It's go time!" Teasing my friends on Facebook just before I'm about to present my dishes...

Plated up and on the firing line.

Dessert, also on the firing line.

To be honest, it was all a big blur after the actual cooking bit. No matter where I am, when I'm cooking, I'm focusing. Once I put the plates out, even the interviews instantly became a fuzzy memory. All I can remember was seeing my other friend Siu Yen in the crowd and feeling a little less nervous, and waving my arms around a little too much while speaking: a habit I have when I'm excited.

A rare shot of me with my arms taking a rest.

Siu Yen managed to take some great shots of me. My favourite so far is this one, where you can visibly see me getting the sweats about the possibility of dropping my plates:

Flanked by two cameras to catch my anxious expression!

We all had to plate up a full version of each of our mains and desserts, plus five tasting dishes of each course for the five judges (Toshihiko Sakaguchi, Director General of JETRO London; Rie Yoshitake, Sake Consultant of Sake Samurai; Anna Greenhous, Sake Journalist of Harpers; Yukimasa Noda, GM International Division of Gekkeikan Sake Brewery; and Kanji Furukawa, Chief Executive Chef of Shoryu and Ichiryu). The full plates were placed behind the glass counter for photography, before being offered to everyone for tasting at the end of the competition.

Oh, and about winning. Well, I still can't believe it. Vai got the special Gekkeikan prize, and to be honest I really wasn't expecting my name to be called afterwards. So when it was, it was like a tiny fuse blew in my brain.

Mr. Sakaguchi hands me the trophy, I still think I'm dreaming.

After the awards were announced we got to take part in the kagami biraki, where we used a small wooden mallet to break open an enormous barrel of sake. I remember asking Mr. Noda nervously how hard I should hit the lid, to which he hurridly replied "Not too hard!" I'm glad I asked, my first instinct would have been to use all of my force...

Tak Tokumine, founder of the Japan Centre and Ramen Shogun' at Shoryu Ramen, presents the kagami biraki, while us contestants catch our breath in the background.

I'm relieved I didn't accidentally destroy the barrel!

I'm going to Kyoto, and I'm going to the Gekkeikan Sake Brewery School for two days' worth of training there. I'm going to Japan, which has been one of my travel dreams for years and years.

Plot twist: I'm doing all of this within days of returning from my trip to Malaysia next month.

To be continued...


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