In anticipation of a long weekend over Heritage Day, the annual Lodox Spring Cook-off took place on 24th September. Everybody in the company was divided into one of four teams, colour-coded this year. The teams were presented with a “surprise ingredients” box from which they had to produce a sweet and a savoury breakfast by 12h00, sharp.
The Red Team named themselves the “Pig & Whistle” after a British pub. They took their inspiration from pub grub (if only the British served such fine cuisine in their pubs) with a Lodox MasterChef spin, by serving up two savoury and two sweet choices with imaginative names: first off was the “I woke up like this porn burger” consisting of cheeseburger slider waffles with handmade chicken and beef patties, topped with cheese and garnish. Then followed the “Huevos rancheros breakfast”, an over-the-top breakfast hash-brown stack, topped with fresh avocado and a fried egg. The sweet selection should more aptly have been named “Diabetic Killers”, but took its place on the menu under the names “Oreo Pancakes” and “YumMallow Cakes”. The former was Oreo-infused chocolate pancakes filled with layers of Oreo whipped cream, topped with chocolate sauce presented in a beer bottle, while the latter was traditional pancakes filled with a mash-up of marshmallows and condensed milk, topped with a fresh strawberry and icing sugar.
The Green Team opted for a main savoury dish of waffles perdu – stacks of crispy Belgian waffles made according to an old Leuven recipe (a secret family recipe passed down for many generations). These were served in two ways: filled with free-range bacon lardons, hand-picked mushrooms, berries and greens; or filled with hand-caught smoked Norwegian salmon, caper-berries and hand-picked asparagus and greens. Both stacks were then drizzled with a silky blend of saffron and vanilla crème. The sweet part of the offering was crêpes Suzette à la méthode traditionelle, i.e., fluffy crêpes bathed in a beurre Suzette (sugar, butter and orange juice), and served flambéed with Grand Marnier liqueur. A generous dollop of vanilla ice cream completed the dessert. To quench the thirst on a warm spring day, and to clean the palate between courses, a very refreshing mojito was served in a jar.
The Blue Team went bold with a Middle-Eastern / North-African culinary delight called shakshuka, a spicy dish of eggs poached in a tomato, red pepper and red onion sauce. A little bit of chilli provided a subtle zing, while ground cumin rounded off the sharpness of the tomatoes. Chunks of creamy goats’ milk cheese were stirred into the sauce, offering a tart counterbalance to the spicy flavours. The dish was garnished with a generous sprinkling of fresh coriander leaves. For those who like a bit of meat with the dish there was a savoury pancake filled with mince and topped with grated cheese. The dessert was a subtle lemon soufflé pancake topped with ice cream, blueberries and honey. A thick, creamy strawberry smoothie rounded off the presentation.
A classic favourite savoury breakfast was on the Yellow Team’s menu: Eggs Benedict – poached eggs and bacon/ham on an English muffin, topped with a generous portion of Hollandaise sauce prepared from scratch. This was complemented with home-made pumpkin fritters. The sweet part of the dish consisted of a chocolate-chip waffle smothered with banana slices, caramel and ice cream. Finally, the drink of choice was a refreshing combination of fresh passion fruit pulp, mixed with passion fruit cordial and topped up with ice-cold dry white sparkling wine, served in a champagne flute.
The completed presentations were placed in the conference room for the three independent judges (an all-ladies team) to critique. The tasting process was streamed live from the conference room to a large-screen monitor in the open-plan area of the office so that the proceedings could be watched by all. There were many knowledgeable, professional-sounding comments about “… this perfectly complements that …”, “… beautiful presentation …”, “… just the right amount of orange that it isn’t overpowering …” , “… awesome use of blueberries …”, “… really, that was a blueberry? I thought it was an olive …”, etc. However, when it came to sampling the sweet offerings from the Red Team, especially the chocolate sauce that went with the pancakes, all coherent speech was replaced by squeals of delight and orgiastic sighs. The dessert is probably what won it for the Red Team in the end.
It is a well-established fact that ladies cannot resist chocolate. Thus, any dishes containing chocolate, presented to a female judge, automatically have an advantage. Moreover, a simple slab of Lindt dark chocolate on a paper plate would probably have won the first, second and third prize. Therefore, future judging panels should have fair representation of men and women to even out this bias.
Grudges aside, all teams produced fantastic and inspirational creations that were eye-catching, fun, creative and delicious. Considering that nobody in the office cooks professionally, but rather enjoys experimenting in the kitchen in a recreational fashion, it is amazing what beautiful and tasty meals were conjured up in a short few hours with limited ingredients. It all came down to teamwork. Well done to the Red Team on winning a voucher to attend a MasterChef cooking class. Was there a rumour doing the rounds that the runners-up were going out for drinks in Cape Town?!?