The phrase “spoilt for choice” takes on an altogether different connotation for three weeks every April in Singapore. That is when the World Gourmet Summit is on, with 73 events packed into 21 days. I was there for a modest two days and could not make up my mind whether to attend a gala lunch cooked by Antonella Ricci, a lady chef from Puglia, a dinner hosted by Travel and Living celebrity chef Curtis Stone, a truffle dinner featuring truffles brought in by Pierre-Jean Pebeyre of Perigord or a Highland Single Malt gala. Figuring that someone <I>had<I> to do the dirty work, I signed up for all of them except the Highland Malt one which would have required me to be in two places simultaneously.
Antonella Ricci – who could have won a beauty competition hands down – had not got the hang of cooking in someone else’s kitchen on a completely different continent. Curtis Stone, just as stunning to look at, turned out to be a master organizer who skilfully worked the crowds in between overseeing a surprisingly innovative menu. Pebeyre didn’t even have the task of making the menu: the executive chef of the Grand Hyatt, Singapore did, and he and his team did a brilliant job with the truffles Pebeyre carried with him. A friend who picked the Highland Malt dinner was completely bowled over by the food that was served, as well as the fact that single malts were more or less used as palate cleansers between courses.
Each dinner seats around 300 persons, most of them Singaporeans. The local press cavil at the fact that not all meals are of equal quality. There is also a pack of whingers who crib that the cost of each dinner is too high. I disagree on both counts. Go to any city in the world and visit five restaurants in the same category. You will never like all five meals equally. It’s bound to happen at WGS too, and we’re talking about chefs who are not cooking in their kitchens in the first place. Then, if you visit a new country – say France, from where several guest chefs hail – you won’t get away with a mere. Sing. $300.
The runaway success of the Gourmet Summit is masterminded by Peter Knipp Holdings. Knipp, ex-chef of the iconic Raffles Hotel, envisaged it twelve years ago as a good way to get his company name talked about. It has a staff of some 50 souls, all of who work more or less around the clock during the month of April. WGS attracts tourists to Singapore who arrive only for these events. Thanks to the efforts of his co-partners, Singapore Tourism Board and American Express Platinum Card, WGS more or less defines Peter Knipp Holdings worldwide.
He has been approached to replicate its success elsewhere and he is looking at various strategies in other Asian countries. Will India ever have a World Gourmet Summit of its own? If Knipp can translate his love for India into business, it probably will.