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Culinary battle of the sexes

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Imagine a kinder gentler version of Fox's 'Hell's Kitchen' television series.

A kitchen where the head chef calmly guides incompetent contestants, smiles and doesn't curse.

If you can picture that, then you have an idea of what went down when renowned American chef Kenny Gilbert and a bunch of company executives took over Cafe Lido.

The event, organised by the Bermuda chapter of the Young Presidents' Organisation (YPO), pitted men against women in a seven-hour battle of culinary skill.

Illness saw Team Men reduced by one participant, Will Cox. On hand were Don MacKenzie, Rammy Smith, Jonathan Howes, Kevin Gunther, Scott Lines and Stuart Lacey.

On Team Women: Karen Smith, Hilary Lawrence, Jonelle Smith, Caroline Lines, Linda Cox, Coralee Starzomski and Lorna MacKenzie.

Each team was tasked with preparing a delicious or at the very least, edible five-course meal for 50 diners.

When we visited the event around 2pm things were fairly calm. There was a strong smell of raw onion in the air; somewhere in the background a blender whirred loudly.

Everyone seemed a little bit bemused over how they had come to be assigned to Hell's Kitchen. Most seemed to have been conned into it by a friend. Mr Gunther, who had been assigned to the task of maiming an endless pile of sunchokes, said he normally ran a trust company. Rammy Smith worked in real estate, Mr and Mrs Cox ran Miles Market; Jonathan Howes was CEO of Bermuda Press (Holdings) Ltd.

Their experience levels varied. None of them had ever cooked for 50 people.

“I am not used to these quantities,” said Ms Smith, who was chopping a small onion. “In about half an hour, I've probably chopped about 20 of these. I don't normally like onions, but at least these don't make me cry.”

She paused for a moment as another contestant conferred with her on the peeling of the sunchokes a seemingly mammoth task. Chef Gilbert materialised to lend the two his encouragement.

“Some things just take a little time,” he told them philosophically in a decidedly un-Gordon-Ramsay-like-manner. Looking at a pile of randomly shaped vegetables, he said. “They have to be all nice and even.”

He moved on to check out a contestant's knife technique.

Meanwhile, Mrs Cox was working on cutting apricots. She was surrounded by bottles of agave nectar, apricot nectar, brown sugar and merlot. Another contestant came over to her, and asked for help finding a piece of equipment. The pair began pulling open large drawers and closing them again haphazardly with a faint whiff of frantic. Several of the contestants told

The Royal Gazette that just trying to find out where all the equipment in the Cafe Lido kitchen was kept, was one of the biggest challenges.

“My husband and I enjoy cooking,” said Mrs Cox. “My husband would have been here, but we just came back from a trip and he was sick the next day. We watch a lot of food programmes like 'Hell's Kitchen' together. We are foodie people. I was diagnosed with food allergies to dairy and wheat, so there are a lot of things here that I can't eat. I tend to eat a lot of beans, quinoa and lentils. At home, we use a lot of coconut milk which is great.”

Although the real 'Hell's Kitchen' chef, Gordon Ramsay is known for his rages, Chef Gilbert was pleasant with the contestants and appeared calm.

“There have been no mishaps so far,” he told

The Royal Gazette. “They have just jumped right in. Sous chefs were picked at random for each team.”

Ms Smith, an assistant underwriter and triathlete, said with a laugh: “I think I was picked as sous chef because I had the least cooking experience.”

The two teams had slightly different approaches to the task at hand.

Team Men decided that each person would have a particular job. When that was finished he would then help his fellow teammates. Team Women took a slightly more collaborative approach.

At 5.30pm

The Royal Gazette visited the team again and found the kitchen empty, everything washed and all equipment put away. Several members were resting in the bar area, or on the terrace contemplating the waves on Elbow Beach. There was a decidedly relaxed feel, as though the competition was over, when in reality in a short time they had to start cooking and plating the meals for guests.

Mr MacKenzie and Mr Smith said everything had gone well up to that point.

“The credit should really go to the support staff,” Mr Smith said. “They have been very helpful.”

“I don't think they wanted us to fail,” said Mr MacKenzie.

Ms Smith was also optimistic.

“Everything went great,” she said. “Better than I expected. The women's team actually finished ahead of the men's team I don't know how that happened.”

Ms Lawrence, who helped to prepare the second course for her team, said there had been nothing particularly difficult to deal with.

Well known Bermuda chef Joe Gibbons of Gourmet Solutions was master of ceremonies for the evening. He predicted the heat would be turned up at 7pm when guests started to arrive.

“The real test will be whether they will fall in the weeds or not,” he said. “By 9pm they will be either in the weeds or on the bank. In the weeds is what chefs call it when they start to get behind with orders. Of course, in a real kitchen situation things would be going a lot faster than they did today. One of our contestants was peeling shallots by hand. That is a way to do it, but it is the long way. Professional chefs have ways to do it that are a lot faster. It should take five minutes to get the person's meal into the line-up, but before that it takes hours of preparation. All the things on the menu should be ready to serve hot and fresh when the order comes in.”

He said he had presided over cooking competitions before, but usually with professional chefs; never with rank amateurs.

“It has been a lot of fun,” he said.

He said Chef Gilbert would be watching carefully and acting as quality control when dishes were plated. If anything wasn't good enough, it would be sent back.

In the end, Team Women lost by a souffle. The ovens could not handle all the souffles at once so they had to be made in batches, which caused a nine-minute delay.

“It was a great experience and really brought to light how people react in different situations,” said Ms Smith. “People were just so excited to get their souffles. People were clapping and chanting 'souffle, souffle'.”

Said Mr MacKenzie: “The men won, although I'm not sure about the criteria. Chef Gilbert said the men were slightly better organised. I think the men were fairly calm at the end, even though we had a glitch. The souffles took a while to come out. We had to hold off on the men's dessert so that the ladies could catch up. It was a bit of a crisis but we survived. It was all in good spirit.

“I think the crowd enjoyed it. Although many of the guests preferred the cooking of the ladies that is what I heard. We men were gracious in victory.”

Members of Team Men won a cookbook and a special chef's knife.

Don Mackenzie (foreground) and Kevin Gunther prep vegetables for their team during the men vs women Hells Kitchen cook off at Lido.
Lorna Mackenzie stirs her brew during
Jonathan Howes is shown the proper way to slice mango .
Caroline Lines preps a red onion for her team
Karen Smith and Cora Starzomski prepare onions
Stuart Lacey works the blender during the men vs women Hells Kitchen cook off
Linda Cox double checks a recipie
Chef Kenny keeps a watchful eye on Jonelle Smith as she melts butter.
Karen Smith weighs onions
Rammy Smith double checks his recipe
Karen Smith and Linda Cox
Hillary Lawrence
About Chef – Kenny Gilbert

Originally from Euclid, Ohio, Kenny Gilbert is the president and owner of Passionate Culinary Enterprises LLC, and chef and partner at G's Restaurant Group. The Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts alum cooks American regional, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Italian, Middle Eastern, Indian, Native American, Moroccan and African dishes.

He was made a chef de cuisine at 23, and once split his pants while cooking a ten-course meal. His favourite recipe is his tomato and mozzarella salad with an onion marmalade. He gained fame as one of 17 chefs competing on the seventh season of Bravo's popular television series, 'Top Chef'. He was an early favourite on the show, but eliminated on the tenth episode. He got right back on track though, earning the position of executive chef of the AAA Four Diamond property, PGA National Resort & Spa in July 2010.

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Published March 04, 2011 at 1:00 am (Updated March 04, 2011 at 8:33 am)

Culinary battle of the sexes

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