Now in its 20th year the Association has varied this year's competition and, instead of challenging an international team, it is holding a Welsh event with teams from North, Mid and South Wales competing to win the prize of a large Metal Dragon, and the kudos that goes with it.
The actual competition will take place in February at Coleg Llandrillo in Colwyn Bay and the three teams will each cook a lunch for 90 people before the Winner is announced.
Prior to taking on the Opposition the South Wales Team organised a tasting of their menu at the Celtic Manor Resort. Each diner would be given a score and comment card which would be used by the chefs to refine and tweak their offering.
The evening commenced with Prosecco and Canapes before proceeding to the dinner itself. Seated on large tables we had a chance to meet new people and talk food in general as well as having a lively discussion about each course as we scored them.
Two wines were served, both South African, a white and a red and fresh breads, a mini baguette, olive bread or caraway bread were available.
The menu had interested me as it used South Wales produce and was also seasonal in its use of vegetables.
The starter of Poached Mackerel, Pembrokeshire Lobster and an Umami Broth with Micro Herbs had an Asiatic twist with the juicy Lobster served in a pastry wrapper almost like a Vietnamese Spring Roll. Poaching Mackerel is not the usual treatment, pan frying or grilling would be more common, but it brought out the real taste of the fish and counteracted the richness of the Lobster. The Umami Broth split the table, some people not getting it at all though they were mainly those who tasted it first whereas those who sipped it after fish thought it perfect. A small chilled Risotto completed the dish - maybe there was a little Pearl Barley in there? Overall a great success at our end of the table.
The main course Usk Valley Saddle of Rare Breed Pork followed. Served Porchetta style a thin but very tasty herb stuffing lay just beneath the thin, crisp layer of skin cooked almost to a crackling. A Red Cabbage puree punched flavour into the dish and the vegetables of Cavolo Nero, spiced Carrot, grilled Chicory and a sweet crisp croquette of Potato and Celeriac completed the dish. If there was one issue it was that there could have been more of the Wild Garlic Jus, perhaps a small jug to accompany the dish, but the main reflected both the season and the locality and should do well in the final competition.
Finally the desert completed the meal.
A Chocolate and Ale Truffle with an Iced Ginger Cake Parfait, Vanilla and Lime Cream Cheese and a warm Black Velvet may have described it, but hardly did justice to the treat that arrived.
The Chocolate Truffle was dark and rich with an almost liquid centre, the parfait with crushed Ginger Cake spread through gave a creamy counterpart and the Vanilla and Lime Cream Cheese worked well with both the truffle and the parfait. The warm black velvet had a deep blackcurrant taste and a foam that offset it a little. One small criticism there was a harsh alcohol aftertaste to the velvet, but toned down a little it would be lovely. And, on a technical point, the plate was so cold that the smear had set solid so I don't know what it was, though I suspect blackcurrant and cassis.
Overall our table thought it a well balanced meal in which the ingredients shone through and the cooking was sensitive. With a few small refinements the team should do very well in the Battle for the Dragon and it will take a culinary tour de force to defeat them.
As a fundraiser for the Culinary Association a raffle ended the evening, prizes donated by the main sponsors and many others, mainly food based but also a signed Newport Gwent Dragons shirt and one from the 2008 Wales team. Our table did particularly well with 6 of 10 winning a prize. Needless to say I didn't but Janet won a copy of Masterchef The Finalists, and seeing the photo of Dale and Larkin on the cover said "OOH! I met them at the Newport Food Festival" before promptly donating it to me!