The skies above Budapest were overcast, but the mood was bright and breezy as Day One of the prestigious Bocuse d'Or Europe 2016 competition got underway.
A loud and passionate crowd from all over Europe came to cheer on their kitchen heroes as day one of the contest saw teams from Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Spain, Turkey, Norway and the United Kingdom do battle.
The prize is qualification for the Bocuse d'Or final in Lyon, but only eleven of the twenty teams will go on to compete for one of the world's most illustrious grastronomic crowns next year.
Using the finest local ingredients from Hungary, each team must present a meat dish of red deer and a fish dish of Danube river sterlet. There's a wide variety of fresh local fruit and vegetables to accompany the dishes, but for the fish course, a secret ingredient of tarragon was revealed to the chefs a day before the contest.
"We were quite lucky because we've already thought about Tarragon," said Brian Turner, the United Kingdom team President. "They've chosen products that not everyone will be used to dealing with. The red deer is not so much of a problem, but we're not used to dealing with sterlet. It's an acquired taste, so we've done our best with it."
The Tasting Jury
Turner is also on the tasting jury, which will mark contestants on a range of criteria ranging from taste and presentation, to originality and creativity. Fellow juror and Swiss President Armin Fuchs (Hotel de Ville, Crissier) hinted at what he would be looking for as he judges the meat dishes. "Is it all correct, is it prepared in a new way? The art and creativity plays a big part. You really have to taste the meat, but also the vegetables must shine through."
Working alongside 32-year-old chef Christopher William Davidsen, Norway Coach Gunnar Hvarnes told us about his team's in-depth preparation for the contest. "We were looking to do something that is not so Nordic because we didn't know the secret ingredient. It could have been red peppers or saffron, so we needed a dish that could manage everything.
"We are doing starlet and freshwater crayfish sauce. We have a philosophy that we don't want to mix sea water products with fresh water because of the taste. The harmony is much better that way."
The Norwegian team's attention to detail is typical of the dedication shown by every country on the opening day as the pressure builds up.
The Teams Due to Compete Tomorrow
On day two they will be joined by ten more teams, from Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, France, Italy, The Netherlands, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, and of course, the host nation Hungary.
"Hungary might be a surprise for a lot of people," said Hvarnes. "Denmark and Sweden will be strong, as always, but if we close our eyes to France we are stupid."