The Taste of Waldorf Astoria Competition Aims to Create New Icons
If you’ve been to any restaurant for breakfast or brunch in the last century, you most likely have seen eggs Benedict on the menu. Likewise, step into a bakery, pretty much anywhere around the world, and the odds are that red velvet cupcakes will most likely be an option. But where did these iconic dishes and food concepts come from? And more importantly, what makes a dish iconic? That was the question posed to ten chefs from around the world who participated in this year’s Taste of Waldorf Astoria competition. And those eggs Benedict and red velvet cake? They were invented by Waldorf chefs.
Now in its third year, the Taste of Waldorf, which took place at the recently opened Waldorf Astoria in Beverly Hills, challenged five Waldorf Astoria executive chefs along with five James Beard Foundation “Rising Star Chef” semi-finalists from around the world to create a happy hour dish, along with a cocktail and a mocktail — all inspired by each chef’s respective home — that would stand the test of time. The prize, glory aside, is that the winning dish and drinks would be placed on the menus alongside other venerable dishes served in the luxury hotel brand’s 26 international locations.
But how does a single chef — let alone two chefs from different backgrounds, culinary sensibilities, and locations who have never worked together — come to create something that will hopefully go down in the history books?
Well, for starters, it doesn’t happen overnight.
“There is a story behind each dish and that’s what food is about, it’s about the journey,” renowned chef Jean Georges Vongerichten (one of the event’s judges) told The Daily Meal. “That’s what each of these chefs did to get here, that’s what makes the dish. That and a lot of hard work.”
For Waldorf Astoria Grand Wailea master chef Ryan Urig and JBF chef and owner of Boston-based Mei Mei Irene Li, the inspiration for their squid ink focaccia dish was the coastal aspects of their respective homes. “We both come from water-based places, and we wanted to take advantage of that,” Urig told The Daily Meal. “So the great thing about the dish is we actually brought the squid ink over from Boston and incorporated that into the focaccia, then the lobster and the crab that we cultivate in July — so we thought why can’t we create something along those lines that were iconic for ahi in Hawaii? So we came up with something nice, fresh, plentiful of the ocean.”
Of course with any competition there can only be one winner. This year’s title went to the team from Waldorf Astoria Park City, who created a Togayashi Prawn Lollipop and bite-sized beet-cured steelhead trout served over a sweet-potato blini.
“We were trying to come up with something different, but also slightly familiar,” chef Michael Zachman told The Daily Meal. “Alex (Bois) is a baker; he has a bakery in Philly, so it was really a mix between his baking skills and my background in contemporary (cuisine), so after a lot of back and forth we came up with the shrimp tempura lollipop and the trout blini and it just worked out really well.”
For Rudolf Segers, executive chef at the Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah, the idea of creating an iconic dish is what every chef strives to achieve in their career.
“Whatever we do, we all put our heart and soul into everything we made here,” Segers told The Daily Meal. “It would be amazing to know that in 100 years your dish would live on in hotels, in restaurants, and on the plates of people all around the world. That’s why we do it.”