For World Oceans Day at Unesco, Olivier Roellinger awarded the prizes for a competition co-founded with SeaWeb Europe and Ferrandi-Paris, in association with the school of Hôtelier de Dinard and Relais & Châteaux.
The objective? To reward young chefs, artisans in ocean protection.
Come on, let's admit it. We snickered a bit when we saw Haralds Sauss, barely 21 years of age and from Riga, announced the winner. But he had obviously cooked a farm-raised sturgeon exceptionally. Indeed, the test included, in his section of northern and eastern Europe just like for the other sections, the challenge of presenting a recipe such as one found in a gourmet restaurant and another which could be made by anyone. But to imagine that from there, this future chef could surpass his talents in culinary technique to hold a more mature discourse, now that we seriously doubted. We were wrong!
"Honestly, before this competition I obviously cooked all kinds of fish, but I never really asked myself about overfishing or the protection of the ocean," confessed Haralds. "At home in Latvia, there is obviously the Baltic Sea but also many lakes and so we don't really have a lack of fish. But obviously it is important to look further and to pay attention to what one eats."
Is this just a trend? "Oh, no, not at all! To the contrary. It is one of the ways in which humanity can still make the planet livable!"
It's the same story for his fellow winner from the other side of Europe. Jorge Metade decided to cook a parrotfish for the competition, a cheap fish well known in Portugal. At 21 years of age himself and just a few days away from joining the kitchen of a five-star restaurant recently opened in his town of Azores, Jorge is also very active in the cause.
"Firstly and above all, I learned in my hotelier school in Ponta Delgada that even if the Azorean islands are teeming with fish, the stocks are not infinite. But this competition has mainly shown me how I can make concrete actions at my level."
Martin Quéré is himself from Brest and we assume that fish are no real secret to him.
"Yes and no! Of course, even when I was little I was already fishing with my parents and I have always had contact with fish. But it was really in my hotelier school [in Dinard] that I came to understand what sustainable fishing could be. For the competition, I hesitated for a long time between the mullet and the Conger eel. I finally opted for the Conger eel since the challenge was huge. If you cook it poorly, it becomes really tough and inedible! You can imagine my stress during the test!"
In addition to these three winners of the "student" categories, the competition was also open to professionals younger than 35 years old. It was Emmanuel Charles, 29 years old and sous-chef at the La Butte restaurant in Plouider, Brittany, who won with another not very well-known and poorly loved fish - the pout, which comes from the same family as cod and whiting. Emmanuel openly admits that the fishermen who sometimes come to La Butte get upset when it's laid out for them. But when served to the jury on a bed of potato flakes with leek cannelloni and served raw in a broth as an everyday recipe, this animal wins its stripes as a noble fish.
So let's forget all those skeptical smirks when looking at all of these artisans who, as Olivier Roellinger reminds us, "defend their cooking and their conception of another way of feeding, while also respecting their profession and those who provide for it."