The scene was picture perfect: The table set with dainty floral-patterned china. Against steaming tea pots and cocktails was a marriage of two chefs’ vision of French food with a twist. Their menu was a feast for the senses. Laurent presented his signature dish of salmon sashimi paired with Ran-Watte tea, one which he compared [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

High point in high tea

After three days of intense competition, the first global Dilmah Real High Tea Challenge which saw the participation of more than 30 chefs from 14 countries showcasing their creative skills, was won by a duo from New Zealand. Purnima Pilapitiya reports

The scene was picture perfect: The table set with dainty floral-patterned china. Against steaming tea pots and cocktails was a marriage of two

Crowning moment:Chefs Laurent Loudeac and Camille Furminieux lift the trophy with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe looking on. Pic by Ranjith Perera

chefs’ vision of French food with a twist. Their menu was a feast for the senses. Laurent presented his signature dish of salmon sashimi paired with Ran-Watte tea, one which he compared to a “light champagne”. Celebrating their French heritage was a crepe suzette flambéed in front of the judges and accompanied by an almond infused Ceylon tea. While paying tribute to traditional tea fare, personal touches reflected their favourite: green tea.

Minty Green Tea speared through rich Clevedon Buffalo milk Feta Espuma to which macadamia nougatine and fresh cucumber added a satisfying crunch. Chef Laurent’s take on the traditional French mille feuille or vanilla slice packed a surprising infusion of strawberry tea.
It was 1867, in the wake of the coffee blight that devastated the plantations that James Taylor attempted to grow 19 acres with seedlings of camellia sinensis on Loolecondera estate near Kandy. Two centuries later the Scot’s name has gone down in history as the pioneer of tea production in Sri Lanka. “Ceylon Tea” as it was then known would shape the world market for the beverage and become a household name. This month local tea giant Dilmah expanded Taylor’s vision with the first Global Tea Championship in the form of their Real High Tea Challenge which saw over 30 chefs from 14 countries from the Middle-East to Europe and Down Under flying down to Colombo to take their creative skills and cooking finesse with tea to a whole new level.

The fine art of tea: How the winning table was presented. Pix by Izabela Urbaniak and Justine Kerrigan

And after three days of scalding competition, it was a duo from New Zealand, Laurent Loudeac and Camille Furminieux who were adjudged the winners of the Dilmah Real High Tea Challenge, receiving their trophy from none other than Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at the grand finale of the competition at Waters’ Edge on July 4.

The competition in fact, is not new. It was launched in 2007 in association with the leading authority of global cuisine, the World Association of Chefs’ Societies. This year though it went global with competitions being held in different countries to pick teams that would represent them at the final. Their challenge? To redefine the concept of “High Tea” for the 21st century.

This year’s first global final saw 21 teams from 14 countries vying for the coveted title. Over the three weeks the participants stretched the limits of culinary tradition with innovative pairings of tea and food, tea cocktails, mocktails and infusions presented in contemporary High Tea fashion.
The final ceremony had all the subtle elegance of a traditional tea ceremony. Contestants, judges along with special invitees mingled in a relaxed atmosphere as they enjoyed a tantalizing meal with the obvious accompaniment of a selection of choice brews. But the eagerly awaited moment was one of shock for the two chefs from New Zealand. “This was unexpected,” they admitted, when we met them minutes after their win, still covered with confetti and quite incredulous that they had clinched the top prize.

Finishing touches: Chef Laurent at work

Both French chefs, Camille and Laurent’s culinary partnership goes back to the last four years at Museum Art Hotel, New Zealand. “We have a lot in common,” smiles Laurent.

With 28 years of experience in the hospitality industry Laurent worked in France, Switzerland and Australia before making New Zealand his home for the past 20 years. Although his training is in classic French cuisine, Laurent’s open attitude towards food is evident in his High Tea menus. As the Executive Chef of Museum Art Hotel his vision is to explore flavours and ideas, shattering the traditional image of afternoon tea. His ideal compatriot then, is Camille who has been in the industry for 12 years after four years training in a catering school in France. She has worked in Ireland, on a cruise-ship in North America and the Caribbean and is now the maitre’d of the hotel and shares his vision for renewing the concept of High Tea.

This was the team’s second time representing New Zealand. Although quite at home with creating a High Tea menu, the global competition was on a completely new level of nerves for the seemingly relaxed pair. “It was highly tense. There was high pressure,” they smiled, knowing that they were up against the best of the

Creative cuisine: The winning team’s Ora King Salmon and left, Almond infused Ceylon Pekoe Digestive


For Dilhan Fernando and the panel of internationally acclaimed judges which included Sri Lankan born Australian celebrity chef Peter Kuruwita, the core idea of the competition was in revamping the concept of High Tea, taking it away from the stereotypical English tradition of cucumber sandwiches, scones and cake. A point Dilhan continually emphasises is the role of tea in “High Tea” – which usually gets lost in the spread offered by many a hotel today. The judges’ criteria was based on appreciation of tea, tea inspired gastronomy and mixology which honoured the very essence of tea in a culinary celebration fit to be on a table of the 21st century.

Laurent and Camille’s vision for high tea was then, a perfect match to the judges’ expectations. One of the teams competing on Day 1, they left a lasting impression with their presentation based on the theme “The Meeting of the Senses”. For them, the challenge and most interesting part was in the uncountable combinations that have been tried, and the ones yet to be discovered. They owe their penchant for innovation to Dilmah, they said, “for giving us the opportunity to compete on an international level and for creating the most elegant teas which make our job fulfilling”.
For most Sri Lankans too it seems, there is more to tea than we imagine.

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