Sweeting scoops two culinary olympic medals
Cured salmon and salmon pastrami with honey dill mustard, pickled cucumber and red onion; truffled breast or Cornish hen and leg roulade with corn royal, quail egg, chives, bell pepper flakes and Cornish hen-saffron bouillon (served apart); tomato and buffalo mozzarella terrine with yellow tomato sorbet, semi-dried tomato, balsamic jelly, basil aioli and tomato cracker — these were some of the dishes chef Sheldon Sweeting whipped up for a two-medal scoop — silver and bronze from the Culinary Olympics.
His silver medal winning menu also included bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin and sous vide pickling spice glazed baby back rib with gratinated potato, cabbage variation, pumpkin custard, poached apple and Madeira sauce; and milk and white chocolate Bavarian, double chocolate brownie, red fruit textures, vanilla tapioca, strawberry ice cream and red fruit sauce.
It was Sweeting’s best result in four Olympic appearances. Competing with Team Bahamas in 2008 and 2004 he returned home with bronze medals for each showing. In his first individual appearance last year he took away a bronze.
“I feel damn good,” he said of his individual silver and bronze medal haul. “If you saw the amount of chefs that walked out of that ceremony with certificate you wouldn’t believe it — that’s how hard it was,” said Sweeting.
Chef Ron Johnson who competed for the first time in individual competition returned home with a certificate. Last year he assisted Sweeting.
Held in Erfurt, Germany every four years, this year’s edition took place October 21-26. The first Culinary Olympics was held in 1900 in Germany when four countries competed, but has grown to more than 2,000 chefs from 40 countries.
Singapore was the overall winner of the gastronomic highlight of 2016, winning the battle of chefs in the national competition. Finland won silver and Switzerland took home bronze.
The Culinary Olympics are a mecca for chefs, industry partners, gourmets and hobby chefs. For four days they can actually witness the top elite of the worldwide chefs network do their best to satisfy the palettes of judges and guests alike.
In 18 glass kitchens, more than 2,000 chefs from 59 nations prepared over 7,000 meals.
Sweeting said “maturity” played a huge difference in his showing this year.
“Because I’m a private chef, I’m able to play around with food more than the average chef because of the clientele. Things you can do on your own, you can’t do say if you’re in a restaurant or hotel setting because the menus are set. Working for private clients I get the opportunity everyday to play around with ingredients and play around with food in general than the average chef would. So the thought process was just making a nice menu, something different than we’ve ever done.”
Lightly smoked bay scallop wrapped with celery and vegetable, tomato water and trout roe; quail “deviled” egg with chicken liver parfait, beet-port gel and herb cracker; butternut squash tortellini with mushroom-leek ragout and parmesan veloute; and sweet chili glazed salted flank steak with corn tortilla and salsa, pickled red onion and avocado comprised Sweeting’s bronze medal winning offerings.
Competing against some of the world’s best wasn’t Sweeting and Johnson’s only challenge. The recent devastating Hurricane Matthew threw a monkey wrench into their preparations and plans. Sweeting had traveled to Florida prior to the storm hitting to purchase food items to prep to carry. Everything he purchased had to be discarded. He had to restock which meant they did not have time to prep and do the things they really wanted to do beforehand.
“I said to Ron Johnson, ‘Wy can’t we go away and compete just once the way we really want to and have the time to do what we need to do?’ It seems at every turn there’s some challenge. But when we got there I said we’re here, we can’t make any excuses, even though we know it’s hard and tough, because what you put out you get.”
Sweeting and Johnson put it out there. And he said Johnson learned what it means to be responsible for your own menu and getting stuff out as opposed to just assisting someone.
He’s fresh off the competition, but Sweeting said the thought processes toward a possible 2020 has already started.
“I can’t help [thinking about it already] because I’ve learnt so much that I’m like let me write this down, let me jot down the mistakes I’ve made if any, and
what I can do different or do better. All that has already started … it’s just the competitiveness in me,” he said.
He said he would like to compete at the next Olympics, but is okay if he isn’t able to.
“I haven’t reached my goal of achieving that gold medal, but I’m still content if I don’t go. Do I really want to go? Yes, because I want to achieve my goal, but if I don’t go, I’m still content and at peace because I’ve accomplished what other Bahamian chefs haven’t,” he said. “
“I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished realizing that so many people didn’t win medals at all, and how hard, stiff and keen the judging really is. If you see the food that people didn’t win medals with, you would be shocked. You would be amazed — that’s just how difficult it is. It’s mindboggling, but at the same time you’re in awe to see what chefs actually do with food … simple stuff — it blows my mind that’s why I love it so much. Even if I don’t compete, I want to go just as a spectator, that’s how awesome this stuff is.”
Sweeting said he still has a lot to learn. For chefs, going to the Olympics is a learning experience — to learn new trends and see what chefs around the world are doing.
With the addition of these two medals, Sweeting’s resume is that much more impressive. He’s a four-time Caribbean Pastry Chef of the Year at the regional Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association’s Taste of the Caribbean competition (2006, 2013, 2014 and 2015); and led the Bahamian squad to its first National Team of the Year title in 2015. Johnson was team manager for last year’s victorious squad.
While Sweeting had to dip into his pocket heavily to compete at the 2012 Olympics, this year he said getting there was easier with sponsorship from the Ministry of Tourism and REVTV. He said he didn’t have to scramble for money and dial back certain ideas he wanted to do and things he wanted to use.
“Being afforded the opportunity to do exactly what you want to do made it easier without having to worry about having to spend your own money again,” he said. “I always give God thanks. I’m proud to be a Bahamian. Proud to represent my country, myself, my family and my friends,” he said.
It costs approximately $25,000 to compete at the Culinary Olympics.