IKA 2012. Judgment Day
Consternation!! What has happened to all of the great chefs of the world? Here they are in Erfurt, Germany with barley a medal between them. When these superstars left home and pocketed their passport and grabbed their culinary delights, did they forget their years of training and experience only to leave all of their skills at home - forgotten in the pantry?
The date is October 10. We are part of a great gathering watching the Awards Ceremony at the conclusion of the Culinary Olympics. Here for the last five days National Teams from 34 Countries and countless Junior and Regional Teams along with individual competitors have gather in ‘The Tryst of the White Hats’ where each and all vie for a coveted medal with gold being the preferred color.
Well, sad to say gold medals were few and far between. Between them, the 34 National Teams could muster but 5 gold medals in total. What has happened? Expectations are dashed; each and all-express disbelief.
Now before we proceed with our autopsy of the 2012 *IKA let us look back in history to a time when the chefs of the world were gathered in Frankfurt. Here we find them complaining veraciously because ‘too many’ gold medals had been awarded.
The year is 1968 and we are referring to the IKA in Frankfurt. This is Canada’s first time to compete in Germany. The Following is a press clipping from that period.
Vancouver Province (Southam News Service. October 1968)
Frankfurt – The nine-day Kitchen Olympics staggered across the finish line here on an October day and collapsed in broad farce.
The Canadian cooking team, entered in the event for the first time watched in open-mouthed amazement as the German Association of Chefs awarded grand gold awards and gold medals to all 15 competing teams without distinction. Even Canadian team manager Martin Elgeti of Edmonton, who did not do any cooking, got a gold medal. “This is a comic opera,” said Elgeti, who himself had put in a rather indigestible week as one of the national members of the judging panel. “This isn’t an Olympics – this is a giveaway show”.
Elgeti went on further to say that “there had been many disputes about the criteria for judging in Frankfurt and many allegations of unfair or privileged treatment given to different teams.
In the end the German Federation evidently decided that everyone had to be judged equally excellent, or else they would have to send for a United Nations peace keeping force”.
The 1968 World Congress of Chefs followed immediately in Geneva, Switzerland. It would be interesting to look at the minutes of these meetings to see if there were any discussions or resolutions that addressed this overabundance of awards. One can predict that it will be a certainty in 2013 that *WACS will have the recent questionable results from Erfurt high on its agenda.
Now let us have a look at what Happened in Erfurt. Here is a visual of the medal count.
I would like to establish that I was not present in Erfurt. I have never been to Erfurt. However, I do know Frankfurt and the IKA exceeding well. Like the Monday morning quarterback, my review has the benefit of hindsight, backed by informed comments from participants.
Looking at the graph we gain an understanding of the distribution of medals over the last three IKA’s. We must though be aware that we are not comparing apples with apples as we review the years. Why? Because the *VKD took an unprecedented step in 2012.
For reasons known only to them, they made changes to the collective value of the categories. Whereas in previous years in the Cold Buffet there had been three categories that were simply known as Categories A,B & C, for the 2012 IKA the three categories were bundled into one and thereafter became known collectively as Category A.
This realignment immediately reduced the number of medals available. For a simple comparison, let us say that there were10 teams competing in 2008. Potentially there would have been the possibility of 30 medals to be awarded in the Cold Buffet. Now in 2012 the same 10 teams returned only to discover that there were now only a possible10 medals available for the same effort on their part.
Why did the VKD make such a drastic change? No person that I am aware of has come up with a reasonable explanation. Did this change enhance the stature of the Culinary Olympics? Hardly. Was the change requested by the competing chefs? Doubtful. Could it have anything to do with money? Now there is a thought. You do the math. In 2004 and in 2008 how many medals were awarded? Now work out how much medals cost. Got the answer? Now compare this with the 2012 costs. What do you think?
So what to do? I understand that the VKD has sent a questionnaire to each of the National Team Managers. One question referred to the medal assignments in the cold buffet and asked if medal allocations should revert to the pre 2012 practice.
Perhaps this question should have been asked a year or two earlier. Imagine if one evening in your restaurant you serve your guest dinner with no choices offered. Then once the table has been cleared you offer them the menu and request their preferences. Not the best of practices.
At this point we should pause. I have just identified financial resources as a possible root cause of one problem. Let us open this door a little further. The economies of countries worldwide are under stress and some countries are reeling under the burden of debt. The Deutsche Bundesbank is under pressure to bail out failing economies of EU Member Countries in Southern Europe. Is the membership of the VKD baulking at the requirement to subsidize the IKA? I would think that is a possibility as well.
Financial restraints recently dictated that the American Culinary Federation cancels the America Culinary Classic. The ACF press release identified Global Economic Conditions as the cause. They hope that the Classic will return in 2015 as do we all.
The Singapore National Team was a no-show in Erfurt. This great team recently won the World Championships in Luxembourg. They had to be an odds-on favorite to challenge the dominance of the Nordic Nations. Did they stay away by choice? No! Money-Money, Money was the problem. The World Champions could not find rich and willing sponsors!
The red flags are flying. We should anticipate the trend. To stay afloat we must trim the sails.
I think that we can take guidance from two premier Salons. The IGEHO and Food & Hotel Asia. The IGEHO limits the number of participating nations inviting the top 10 National Teams only. In addition the frequency of this salon is every six years not every four years. In addition, FHA in Singapore does not aim to accommodate dozens of visiting teams.
The VKD anticipated a problem and took what they though was remedial action. It backfired. You should not shortchange the medal count and you do not cancel per diems for the judges or make judges who are strangers to each other share a hotel room. There were other options such as reducing the number of entries. I feel sure that the VKD will restructure in the future. When 2014 rolls around chefs will gather for the World Cup at the Expogast Trade Show in Luxembourg November 22nd - 28th. Let’s see how the Vatel Club ‘sets the course’.
As our grandmothers would have advised us ‘learn to cut your cloth accordingly’.
Now to move on. Let us be fair to WACS and to the National Bodies that hosts the salons. There have rarely been any egregious situations. In addition, while we are being fair let us state here that there have been no accusations of backroom dealing or skullduggery by either the VKD or the judges at the IKA. Their sin quite simply was one of bad judgment.
It would seem that WACS has previously had the infrastructure in place to enable them to interface with the Culinary Committees of the hosting nations. For those of you who are not familiar with the WACS Official Documents I suggest that you go to the link below. Knowable and dedicated professionals have expended great efforts to compile these reports and recommendations.
Secretary General, World Association Cooks Societies. International Culinary Committee
In July of 2001, the International Culinary Committee of the World Association of Cooks Society (WACS) decided to ask each of the world ranking recognized culinary competitions to allow an observer to be part of each of these competitions and report to the WACS Culinary Committee on the observer’s findings. This is intended to be constructive and to the betterment of International culinary Competitions in the future.
To date WACS Culinary Committee observers have covered the following International Culinary Shows:
2002 World Junior Chefs Challenge, New Zealand, Mr Tony Jackson
2002 Food and Hotel Asia, Mr Otto Weibel
2002 Culinary World Cup, Luxemburg, Mr Norbert Schmidiger
2003 The American Culinary Classic, Mr Reinhold Metz
2004 IKA Culinary Olympics, Mr Graham Hawkes
I cannot find any reports from more recent years. Perhaps they are filed elsewhere. WACS did have a very experienced observer in Erfurt 2012. Otto Weibel was the man on the spot. Presently Otto is in Hawaii. No doubt he is working hard on his report for the Directors!!
WACS has grown in stature and has universal respect. This is due in great part to the efforts of our present Presidium and those from previous decades. We have been blessed with stellar leadership. I have no insider information but I suspect that the resources of the Executive are stretched thin. We as members must temper our expectations with patience and WACs must set realistic correctional plans that are attainable.
I have heard suggestions that WACS should oversee the selection of judges and ensure that each country has a judge on the panel. Yes, perhaps it is a sound idea for WACS to vet the makeup of the jury. However, it is a foolish idea to suggest that each participating country have a representative judge on the judging panel. There would be a resulting deluge of incompetent judges. You will no doubt hear many similar recommendations. If the VKD has sent a questionnaire to Managers of National Teams, perhaps WACS should do likewise.
Remember the train has not gone off the tracks. It mistakenly took a detour.
Sadly harm has been done. I believe that it must have been sole destroying for some teams. Chefs hope to be victorious – failing that, they absolutely deserve to be treated with respect and their efforts recognized with the just reward. Certainly, the VKD dropped the ball, shattering hopes and disappointing many.
Let us finish with some upbeat news. We can look forward to visiting Switzerland this year. Once again, Basel will host the IGEHO November 23rd – 27th. The Salon Culinaire Mondial will return after a break of eight years. If my memory is correct this salon was held every six years. It has been delayed due to the construction of a new Fair Centre.
Teams from the top ten nations are invited and they will compete for the title of Culinary World Masters. This prestigious championship ranks alongside the World Cup and the Culinary Olympics. I was fortunate to attend the IGEHO in 1987 and 1993. I can therefor recommend Basel as a City with great charm and hospitality.
Finally, let us be grateful. At the commencement of this editorial, you may recall reading a press release that reported on the 1968 “Kitchen Olympics” in Frankfurt. Unlike our present five days, this event lasted for nine days. What a slog! Those old chefs were made of stern stuff!
- VKD – Verband der Koche Deutschlands e.V.
German Chefs Association
- IKA – Internationale Kochkunstausstellund
- WACS – World Association of Cooks Societies
Please visit our Home page to view the Champion Teams from the 2012 IKA.