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12th February 2024

Team GB at the 2024 Culinary Olympics- a dairy of events

Written by: Edward Waddell
Team Manager Peter Joyner kept a diary at the 2024 Culinary Olympics in Stuttgart where team GB went on to win five gold medals, one silver, one bronze as well as two diploma of honours.

Rising from the ashes

Post-covid the Craft Guild Culinary Team had folded and the future was looking uncertain. Three years ago Craft Guild of Chefs chair Matt Owens asked me to resurrect the team, having spent several years with the Scottish Culinary team at international competitions, but that was 25 years ago.

Here is what happened three years later…

The competing Team GB members were: Terry O’Riordan, Wayne Corbett, Simon Webb, Nicola Harper, Yoana Marinova, Grahame Wickham, Rick Owens, Andy Saupe, Indika Jayasena and Rod Naylor.  

Day 1 – Tuesday, 30th January 2024

The truck arrived in Stuttgart with all the equipment and some of the sponsored ingredients started the journey at the weekend. The truck was hired in Germany, Angus from Gourmet Classic flew to collect it and brought it over for the team to load and head back.

Terry meticulously compiled a list of equipment and food on the van to comply with customs, the last thing we needed was to have anything confiscated or held back.

The team based themselves in a large house via air B&B, 15 minutes from the venue. The house has loads of space a double garage (which acts as a walk-in fridge as temperatures never got above five degrees celsius, a cellar and seven bedrooms. This works out much cheaper and convenient than hotels.

The rest of the team flew in from Heathrow wearing their team uniforms. Except me, I flew to Luxembourg to collect some of the specialist ingredients from Le provancale, a quality commercial supplier, before making my way to Stuttgart by hire car.

On arrival the team checked the van for damages, fortunately Rod’s dragon, Andy’s chocolate piece and Indikas’ sugar peacock survived the 600-mile journey. Unfortunately, Terrys 42” TV was damaged, with a broken screen - this was to display his menu and sustainability messages. So we have a problem to sort out urgently.

We feel really prepared compared to previous competitions, we have razor sharp knives from Savernake and Russums supplied us with uniforms including winter coats to hold off the cold. ScanBox provided us four fridges for preparation and transportation of exhibits, Allison Risebro supplied some fantastic quality fruit and veg, we even had staff meals kindly donated by Waitrose.

The team unpacked and sorted out the workspaces, then began to set up the exhibition stands which were created by Dalebrook, each riser, lighting stand and plinth carefully marked and photographed before being packed away until the day they are required. This careful planning will save time in the morning of the competition. 

Andy cooked some German bratwurst on the open fire in the garden, which the team devoured with a coffee and soft drink. Beer is off limits until after the competition, complete focus is required until then. 

Day 2 – Wednesday, 31st January 2024

Basic butchery and fish mongery for the team first thing, making sure everyone had what they needed, a quick dash to the hypermarket to pick up a few missing items. Fine garnishes, tuilles and sauces were made and put aside for when they are required.

The team are very conscious of waste so any trimmings or left over parts are squirrelled away for staff meals.  Waitrose also kindly donated some ready meals to help feed the team, other team members come up with some very interesting concoctions. 

Everyone carefully reads their recipes and compile a detailed prep list. Andy is working on his chocolate sculpture in a bedroom upstairs, so he’s away from heat and condensation. He feels confident, he is on schedule to present on Sunday. There is a feeling of calm around the team, everyone is enjoying each other’s company, there is a real feeling of comradery. Wayne’s dance music playlist rings out loud throughout the house. 

The aspic is made ready to coat the pieces, this protects them from drying out at the exhibition and to gives a fantastic shine to the food on display. The aspic recipe is a closely guarded secret, each team trying to get the best shine that lasts the longest.

The team reminisce about their time in Luxembourg in early 2023, it was the first major competition for most of the team and was a really tough gig. They have certainly put their learnings in action this time round.

Day 3 – Thursday 1st February

Today we picked up all the passes and entry documents from the exhibition halls, visiting the halls is a good chance to see how long the journey takes from our base and make sure the road is smooth.

We can’t risk any bumps with the delicate chocolate or sugar pieces. The team take the opportunity to practice and fine tune their pieces. Ricks not happy with a couple of his finger food items, they don’t meet the regulation weight.

Finger food items should be between 10-20g, his taco was too light so didn’t meet the weight guidelines. This was quickly changed to a burrito. Plates are polished and ingredients checked again. 

Day 4 – Friday 2nd February

Today is the start of busy times, Nicolas entry is up first thing tomorrow, so last minute cooking of garnishes and carefully placed onto cocktail sticks for dipping in aspic, sauces are checked for colour and gelatine added so they set on the plates. You only get one chance to get this right.

At 3.00pm the team go to the opening ceremony, it’s very impressive to see teams from all nations parading into the halls waving their flags to great applause. This is the oldest, largest and most diverse cooking competition in the world, which has taken place every four years since 1900 It’s absolutely massive, with over 2,000 chefs competing over five days.

Day 5 - Saturday 3rd February

Entry day for: Nicola Harper – Individual Art

Rod Naylor – Individual Pastry Artistry. Rod made a Pastillage Dragon in the UK which we carefully transported out and set up on his behalf.

Late finish on Friday meant very little sleep and an early start today, the van left at 4am to get to the exhibition halls. The Scanbox fridges were wheeled into the van and transported the food carefully plated with just the small garnishes and crisp to be added at the halls.

Dalebrook made a fantastic woodland display and the RAK plates really helped to showcase the dishes. It was Nicolas first major competition outside the UK and with some guidance and support from the team presented a fantastic display. She was surprised by the amount of interest she had from other teams as she put the final touches to her plates. 

The news broke about 3pm that Nicola had won a gold medal. The whole team were elated, what a fantastic start to the week. There was no time to waste, Both Andy, Rick and Simon were presenting tomorrow, so the key elements were sliced and garnishes finished and placed in the fridge ready for aspic. And Andy puts the finishing touches to his chocolate piece. 

A couple of the guys headed over to the Messe (Exhibition halls) to set up the backgrounds, plinths and lighting for tomorrows exhibits, this saves a massive amount of time in the morning so the chefs are able to focus purely on their food.

Indika arrives today and check her sugar peacock made the journey over safely, which it did. I think having a couple of the team with military experience certainly helps with logistics.

Day 6 - Sunday 4th February

The van sets off at 4am with Rick and Simon, carefully driven by Andy, unfortunately the delicate chocolate piece had some damage during transit so Andy had to do some running repairs.

The guys get set up and finish presenting their displays, ready for judging at 7am sharp. It’s now a waiting game to see what the judges think. The guys head back to base to get a few hours of sleep, something they didn’t get last night.

Indika spends the whole day adding flowers and finishing touches to her peacock, it’s looking fantastic, it’s massive (about the size of a domestic fridge). We soon realise it now won’t fit in the packing crate it came in so we have to come up with a solution. She had obviously put many weeks work into this piece, we just had to get it there safely.

We got the message from today’s prize giving that Rick had won Gold, Simon a silver and Andy a diploma, another fantastic achievement. We were certainly making our mark.

Rick was very pleased that his five course plant-based menu was well received by the judges, it was a real risk that obviously paid off. Simon had feedback from the judges that one of his finger foods had fallen over before judging so this lost him points, he must have also been close to getting gold.

No time to waste, Wayne is up tomorrow so his pieces get trimmed and dipped, he’s super organised and in good time, it looks like he may get away without working all night to complete his dishes? 

Day 7 - Monday 5th February

Another 4am start to get to the show, it’s important to get to the front of the queue with the lorry to unload quickly so the guys can start setting up.

Mondays is always busy at the show as lots of chefs take the weekend to prepare their dishes. Wayne was really happy with how it looked, he had a point to prove as he scored so highly at the Culinary World Cup in Luxembourg, at Gold medal at the Culinary Olympics would be the ultimate accolade. He will have to wait until the prize giving to find out.

Indika managed to get her Peacock to the show in one piece with careful help from the team, it would need four people to lift it from the truck. Wayne was delighted to hear he had won gold and a big cheer rang around the house from the rest of the team. 

Indika was awarded a bronze medal, which is a fantastic achievement. The Individual Culinary artistic category is probably one of the hardest categories in the competition, with artists from all around the world bringing incredible displays to this competition.

The guys that were up all night get a couple of hours sleep while the rest of the team support Grahame and Terry for their entries which go up tomorrow. Both guys are seasoned competitors but I imagine they both feel pressure knowing the team have already won three gold medals. It would be a shame not to get a couple more.

Terry sets up his stand for a second run-through now his replacement TV has arrived. Everyone is looking very tired, but they have to give one last push tonight.

Day 8 - Tuesday 6th February

The guys arrived in the morning to set up only to discover Terry setup/stands had disappeared. It was set up perfectly the previous night, they managed to find it in a side room. Unfortunately things are sometimes stolen, so you wouldn’t leave anything small or electronic on the stand.

Terry had a bit of a shock when he couldn’t find his fish course, after a worrying few minutes it was found in Grahame’s Scanbox, it’s a problem when you are so tired, easy mistakes are made.

They finally got set up just in time for the 7am judging. What a relief the last two entries had been completed. The guys called into the off-licence on the way back to collect a beer, it would be their first in over a week.

Terry and Graham went back to the show for judges feedback at 1pm. Grahame seemed happy with his feedback but Terry was really concerned that one of the judges appeared to find quite a few faults or areas to improve. It was to be a worrying two hour wait for the results! As there were no entries the next day the whole team went to the prize giving. And what a result another two gold medals.

Final thoughts

Whist the medal winners rightly get huge applause and plaudits. It’s important to recognise that behind them are the unsung heroes; the management, logistics and support team. 

In particular Yoana Marinova, the young head pastry chef at Lloyds of London, she was there for everyone’s dessert offing expertise and guidance. Hopefully she will be on the podium in Luxembourg in 2025 with her own medal winning entry.

The results this week far exceeded everybody’s expectations, it was a combination of meticulous planning, total dedication from everyone, and team work. It’s important to remember that everyone has busy jobs and family life to juggle, without the support of loved ones and employers it wouldn’t be possible and a special thanks to all the companies that have helped us with sponsorship, they have been incredible.