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At The Table With: Otto Weibel

25 June 2019 by Food&HotelAsia

We catch up with Otto Weibel, Head Judge of the FHA Culinary Challenge 2020 to find out more about his thoughts on sustainability, the plant-based movement and what he will be looking out for during the competition. 

Hi Chef, it has been 2 years since FHA2018, and you’ve clearly been busy! Can you share what you’ve been up to?

I have been busy with my consultancy job, helping friends and working on few new concepts. I’m also very much involved with food competitions around the world as a judge, and I’m also a member of the Culinary Committee of the World Chefs. I’m involved in around 15 food competitions per year, and am also planning food events for the Chaine des Rotisseurs here in Singapore. 

Whenever I have some free time, I like to travel and play golf. This keeps me busy throughout the year.

What does sustainability mean to you today, as a chef and as a restaurateur? 

Chefs have a responsibility toward sustainability, and we can help by ordering food from known sustainable sources, or directly from farms. We should use food that are healthy for the consumer, and promote organic and low-carbon production ingredients. We definitely should stay away from ingredients that use artificial fertiliser, as well as genetically modified produce. Sustainability is to me, a way of living that people should choose from themselves, their family and the environment.

Your restaurant, Otto’s Deli, launched in 2016 and has an emphasis on seasonal items – how does ‘seasonal’ and ‘sustainable’ work in a country that essentially, has no seasons and imports most of its produce? 

Otto’s Deli uses only fresh products and we try to stay away from frozen ingredients. We produce everything fresh in house, and we check what is in season with local farmers here in Singapore and of course, with our suppliers for fresh ingredients from overseas.

What are your thoughts on the plant-based movement?  

I think a plant-based diet is great for your health and lowers the risk of heart diseases and high blood pressure, but I’m personally not a fan because I still like my meat. I do however, enjoy a good vegetarian dish, and I think that these days, it is a must for restaurants to include vegetarian options on the menu. 

As a judge, what are some things/qualities you’ll be looking out for during the FHA Culinary Challenge?

Food competitions give chefs a platform to show off and measure their skills against others, but as a judge, I’m also look out for the candidates’ appearance – so a clean, full uniform is important. Passion and discipline for the profession are personal traits I value (and are often evident), and during the actual cooking, hygiene, cleanliness and the respect a candidate shows raw ingredients are extremely important. Overall organisational planning, skill and of course, team work, if there is a team. 

We eat with our eyes first, so there needs to be a ‘wow’ factor – so needless to say, presentation is very important. Is the plate hot; are all elements of the dish nicely and cleanly presented; are the food’s natural colours allowed to shine? If done right, it will also attest to the chef’s knife skills, and his creativity in composing the dish/menu. 

Finally, and most importantly, the dish needs to have texture and well-balanced flavours. By this I mean the main ingredient should not be over-powered, and every other ingredient needs to be perfectly cooked and seasoned and work in harmony with each other.

You’ve been a part of several editions – what do you look forward to the most at FHA? 

An exciting but fair food competition. I look forward to seeing participants and teams from all around the world, and meeting up with old friends and making new ones. FHA is also a great opportunity to network with industry folk, and share our knowledge. Of course, I also always look forward to checking out the various exhibitors and seeing what’s new on the market. Most importantly – I enjoy myself!

Finally, what is the one ingredient you could not imagine living (and cooking) without?  

Sorry, I have three: onions, cilantro and lemongrass!

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