Fans of the Avengers would have appreciated the stellar lineup of all shapes, sizes, and species of chefs assembled by Julien Perraudin on the second day of this year’s NOSH Saigon, a gastronomic gathering organized annually to bring the hospitality community together.
The first night of NOSH on the 25th of May had championed young and talented Vietnamese chefs, with the intention that the second night would pay tribute to those international chefs who had remained in Vietnam through the COVID lockdowns and emerged to help lead the recovery.
Saigon’s answer to Nick Fury, Bien Nguyen, who has been coordinating NOSH since its inception in 2015 was once again in fine form as master of ceremonies cajoling, coercing, corrupting, and congratulating the chefs in equal measure.
The format advanced by Bien was as controversial as it was unique. Chefs were divided into Australian and European foursomes and lined up to battle it out across four courses with one chef from each team taking the lead for each challenge. Australia was represented by Chris Donnellan (Racha Room), George Bloomfield (Stoker), Jay Taylor (LuBu), and Harold Ngo, Vietnam’s first-ever Masterchef winner. Europe was represented by Frenchmen Julien (Quince Saigon) and Sakal Phoeung (Le Corto & P’ti Saigon), the Great Dane Caspar Gustavfsen (Mad House), and Spanish matador Kike Gallardo (Octo).
Four different food distribution companies generously supplied the ingredients for one course each represented by Steven Harrison from Trulife, Robert Ameln of Food Source, Antoine De La Mardiere from Classic Fine Foods, and the vivacious Jimmy Ong from Good Food. Classic Australian wines from the prestigious wineries of d’Arenberg and Kilikanoon from Celliers d’Asie and RADA Wines were thoughtfully selected as perfect pairings for the chefs’ dishes.
Traditionally, as soccer teams face off in penalty shootouts they will pick their most confident and fearsome participant to go first, set the tone and land a crushing blow to unsettle the opposition. Unsurprisingly, both squads’ advanced chefs with proven boxing prowess to compete in the first challenge as Julien and Chris Donnellan touched gloves for the first “octopus” challenge.
The guests were asked to pick the winners and the boxing analogy could be extended to the crowd, whipped into a frenzy by ringmaster Bien and co-conspirator Luke Nguyen, whose voting methodology revolved around the loudest applause being the deciding factor in determining which dish should prevail.
With an overwhelmingly Antipodean crowd, it felt inevitable that the Australians would win the challenge 3:1 with Harold’s BBQ Lamb with tzatziki and George’s yummy yogurt with red berries proving decisive for the team to win. Kike Gallardo flew the flag for the Europeans with his BBQ Wagyu Tenderloin accompanied by a delicious medley of vegetables such as roasted beetroot and safran mashed potatoes.
A liberal scattering of emojis was used to decorate the menu for the second edition and denote the type of courses and their sequencing with much less use of words. Sometimes that’s appropriate because we can’t always find the words to capture the emotion of an occasion especially if it is an occasion centered on emotion and human connection. From the warmth of Elia’s welcome to the ballads of The Boomtown Boys to the delicious, wafting aroma’s punctuated by banter from the chefs and the cries of joyous guests — NOSH is back… and we’ll look forward to these Gastronomic Avengers reassembling again soon.