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Estonian grill masters win hearts and stomachs

  • 2001-11-08
  • Aleksei Gunter
TALLINN - A six-member team of Estonian expert BBQers is eager to show the world just how well they know their way around a grill. For the Estonian Barbecue Association, the art of barbecuing is an obsession. The Baltic Times witnessed their last training grill-off before they left for the World Barbecue Championship held from Nov. 2 to 4 in Cape Town, South Africa.

The challenge behind the barbecue contest was to concoct five different original meals in three hours and 45 minutes. A limited number of ovens and other kitchen appliances made the competition more tricky for those inept over the coals.

An earlier championship was held this summer in Switzerland. Although the Estonian team was there, competition was tough and the team won no significant prizes.

Over 40 teams participated in Cape Town, most of them merely amateur collectives who simply adore the thrill of the grill. The Estonian team, however, had the advantage of having several professional chefs in their midst.

TV star Rainer Harm, known in Estonia only as "Jazz," is the team's head chef. He had worked at Olde Hansa, a medieval restaurant in Tallinn's Old Town, and later became the star of his own TV cooking show.

The other team members are also seriously involved in the art of cooking, like Arne Schumann who works at L'Artiste, an upscale Tallinn restaurant at the Reval Hotel Olumpia. Rain Kaarst and Silver Siitam also work at the Olumpia, and Vambola Moores is cook at the Irish-style tavern George Browne's.

But the team captain Jaan Habicht is a microbiologist.

"A team's success doesn't always depend on over-qualified cooks. Typically the barbecue teams of IT companies, for example, are very competitive," said Habicht.

Chef Schumann added, "When barbecuing, the most important things to remember are to not overcook the meat and to give it air so it doesn't get bitter from the smoke."

Captain Habicht proudly informed TBT that all tickets to the Cape Town cook-off had been sold out by the middle of October.

Each of the mighty Estonian grillers was busy with his assigned tasks for the Cape Town contest, but they were more relaxed as they prepared two of the five rehearsal meals at the training session. The six men ran cheerfully about wielding spatulas and bottles of secret sauce, laughing and shouting BBQ tips to each other the whole time.

When the big day came, in the heat of the South African plain, the Estonian barbecue experts tried hard to please fans in the audience with their menu. The starter was a succulent barbecued salmon with vegetable tagliatelle (chopped vegetables layered in a pan then cooked on hot coals) drizzled in a racy ginger-chili sauce. The second meal featured a barbecued chicken roll filled with Parmesan cheese and pasta in a raspberry beet vinaigrette. Then came steamy grilled ribs with apple-cowberry salad and fried potatoes.

Keeping the coals rolling, they conjured up a bullock fillet with fruit lasagna and a tangy South African cowberry chutney, ending the menu with a touch of class in the form of a pineapple creme brulé in a light cherry sauce.

Their efforts were rewarded. The Estonians placed a hearty fourth. The team has been wandering around South Africa in a glorified haze ever since.