Food artisans take centre stage at the World Gourmet Summit

An artisan is a craftsman who has raised his skills to the highest level of excellence. Maida Pineda reports from Singapore, where food artisans from all over the globe converged earlier for the World Gourmet Summit

In the 17th World Gourmet Summit (WGS) called Artisan & The Art of Dining, food artisans from all over the globe converged in Singapore between16-26 April to celebrate their craft. To kick off the eleven-day gastronomic celebration, a press preview and cocktail reception was held at The S.E.A. Aquarium, the world’s largest aquarium.

Over six hundred guests mingled with the stellar cast of culinary greats including special guest chef Joachim Koerper, dubbed an artisan in Mediterranean cuisine from Portugal, plus fourteen Masterchefs namely: Bo Lindegaard and Lasse Askov (Denmark), Corrado Assenza (Italy), David Munoz (Spain), Gabriele Ferron (Italy), Jean-Francois Piege (France), Matt Moran (Australia), Paco and Jacob Torreblanca (Spain), Rodrigo de la Calle (Spain), Sanjeev Kapoor (India), William Ledeuil (France), and Yannick Alleno (France). These artisans along with chefs from eleven hosting restaurants prepared a memorable feast of starters, soups, salads, entrees, surf-n-turf, and dessert bites for guests to sample surrounded by underwater creatures in the massive aquarium tanks.

While there was no shortage of Michelin-starred chefs gracing this year’s summit, the focus was more on their passion for their craft rather than the stars they have earned. Peter Knipp, the CEO of Peter Knipp Holdings, Bytes Asia, Foodservice Consultants, Food2Print, and Ala Carte Productions, jointly introduced World Gourmet Summit in 1997 with the Singapore Tourism Board. At this year’s opening reception, Knipp spoke of the summit as a proud father would, saying, “The World Gourmet Summit is a baby that is now a teenager. We’ve stopped counting the chefs. We’ve stopped counting the stars. It’s about the people. Many individuals in Singapore have told me that this year’s programme is one of the most exciting because it focuses on the true essence of what food and beverage is all about. It’s about artisans, master craftsmen. It’s not just about stars any more – it’s about what they bring to the table.”

Among food professionals and the public, WGS 2013 has become the most-anticipated event in Singapore and the region. Chef Susur Lee who flew in from Canada recalls, “When Peter Knipp started about 15 years ago, I was one of the chefs invited. One of the things I asked him when he phoned me was, ‘Do I need to cut my hair?’ He laughed at me.”

Much has changed since Lee’s first participation in the summit. The Canadian chef marvels at how World Gourmet Summit successfully connected the world of food. It doesn’t matter if you are a big restaurant. He points out the focus is not the size of the business, but the artistry of the chef. He says, “Some restaurants only have 13 or 15 seats. They are invited. In the old days, if you only have 15 seats you would not be invited to an event like this.” Returning chefs like Susur Lee, Joachim Koerper, and Sanjeev Kapoor, as well as first time visitors to Singapore such as Chef William Ledeuil all agree that participating in WGS allows them to sample the exciting flavors of the Lion City, plus it gives them a unique opportunity be stimulated by techniques and cuisines of fellow top chefs.

At the Citibank Gastronomic Jam Sessions where visiting Masterchefs each had 45 minutes to demonstrate their recipes, Peter Knipp shifts my attention to the passion of Spanish chef Paco Torreblanca, regarded on of the one most innovative chefs of the world: “You have someone who is not a chocolatier yet he understands cocoa. He knows how to manipulate it in a positive sense. He plays with it. Here’s a man who has devoted his entire life to one product. He has taken it to another level. You’ve got to be in awe of that.”

Knipp was spot on. The audience was spellbound by as Paco and his son Jacob created the most exquisite chocolate oyster right before their very eyes. But the phenomenal chocolate artisans dazzled foodies even more at Hearts on Fire, the first edible fashion show in Asia. Paco and Jacob Torreblanca, along with homegrown Singapore talent Chef Janice Wong created chocolate gowns and couture chocolate designs. The father and son duo have done chocolate fashion shows in the past in Madrid, Milan, and Paris, but this is their first in Asia.

Another Spanish chef who endeared and intrigued the WGS 2013 crowd was Rodrigo de la Calle dubbed as the Gastrobotany artisan. When Chef de la Calle met botanist Santiago Orts, the innovative chef developed a profound appreciation of the vegetable world. Chef de la Calle teases the palate by incorporating unknown greens in his cooking, such as the quirky oyster leaf, which tastes just like the mollusc.

Food artisans celebrated in Singapore

But the biggest discovery of WGS 2013 was a passionate Italian artisanal butcher. Dario Cecchini infected chefs and participants in this year’s summit with his zeal and respect for the cow. Cecchini from Panzano-in-Chianti brings with him 38 years experience as an artisanal butcher and is a descendant of eight generations of butchers. This master butcher demonstrated his philosophy that, “No cut is better than the other, the cow is not made up of only the fillet and steak.” As his hands worked with the meat, he told us how his family savours every part of the cow. Cecchini preaches, “Every piece of meat can be great, from head to tail, if cooked properly.” His teaching resonates with the prudent Asian cooks who waste nothing in their own kitchens.

While many attribute the success of World Gourmet Summit to Peter Knipp, this FCSI member is quick to dismiss it. He qualifies that mounting this annual food event is a team effort. Given the numerous food events happening in Singapore, food companies big and small continue to choose WGS. Knipp says, “It is made possible by our sponsors, from Citibank down to the little guy who’s probably spending his entire year’s budget, even though its small, because it’s meaningful to him.”

Robert Rees of Wine Exchange Asia participated for the first time by bringing in Brian Lynn, South Australian owner and winemaker of Majella Wines in Coonawarra for an interactive session on how to blend red wines. The wine retailer says, “We are Singapore’s biggest online wine retailer representing about 400 brands, so it’s interesting for us to participate because we are always looking for new customers and exposure. This event attracts the right kind of demographic, food and wine lovers.” For Rees, choosing WGS over other food events is a no-brainer, “It’s the most prestigious and high-profile. Certainly, it has been going for a long time. It attracts the right kind of chefs, which in turn attracts the right kind of customers. It’s really just a matter of bringing like-minded interests together.”

But perhaps the best indicator of the success of WGS 2013 is having a long-term partner consistently support the event each year. Andrew Simpson, Regional Manager South East Asia and Greater China of Meat & Livestock Australia said, “It’s a proud honour for Meat and Livestock Australia to once again be represented in WGS. We have been a sponsor for 17 years.” Simpson continues to explain their involvement, “Singapore is one of the global culinary hubs that our producers are very proud to serve and to feed into. The cattle producers of Australia have supplied the Singapore market with over 16,000 tons of beef, 2,000 tons of lamb and 6,000 tons of mutton last year. We’d like to say thank you.”

Clearly, this year’s summit aims to impart a deeper appreciation of food artisans in Singapore. Knipp says, “When you understand what it means to be an artisan, you become humble and quiet. You say, ‘Wow this is really something!’” All the different events at WGS 2013, including hands-on workshops, wine tastings, themed dinners, wine blending, golf event dinner and an edible fashion show, successfully provided countless opportunities to be in awe of the best food artisans of the world.

Maida Pineda


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