Meet the Legendary Chefs Leading MGM x RR1HK Culinary Masters Macau 2024
The RR1 Signature Event held at MGM COTAI is the hottest ticket (and plate) in town.
BY Robb Report Hong Kong  |  June 17, 2024
7 Minute Read

Culinary Masters 2024

This story is part of a series of features covering MGM x RR1HK Culinary Masters Macau 2024, hosted at MGM COTAI in Macau on 28–30 June 2024.

A host of top-tier chefs are heading to the biggest event of the season, MGM x RR1HK Culinary Masters Macau 2024 presented by Robb Report Hong Kong and MGM, and their incredible portfolios speak volumes. Among the roster of Culinary Masters are Yang Dengquan of one-Michelin-starred Five Foot Road at MGM COTAI in Macau, Garima Arora of two-Michelin-starred Gaa in Bangkok, Marco Galtarossa from one-Michelin-starred Ristorante Villa Elena, Chudaree “Tam” Debhakam of two-Michelin-starred Baan Tepa in Bangkok, Sara Aqel of Dara Dining in Amman, and legendary Macanese chef Florita Morais Alves from La Famiglia, located in the heart of Taipa in Macau.

Among them, they collectively present six Michelin stars, decades of experience, and accolades, five-star reviews, and hefty praises galore. Indubitably, what the six sensational chefs from around the world have accumulated over their resplendent careers is the stuff of legend. All proficient masters in their industry and type of cuisine, they are popular, respected, and accomplished chefs who carry the weight of great expectations with apron-strapped ease, just days leading up to the highly anticipated event.

Now, a challenging task present itself to the chefs: to provide a cohesive menu and fulfil the theme of MGM x RR1HK Culinary Masters Macau 2024: “Savor 700 Years of Silk Road Flavors: A Gastronomic Odyssey.” How are these chefs to prepare a meal and menu when they are as diverse as they come? We have seen that when reality TV judges put chefs to task, they throw in a compulsory ingredient, but this is no game at play.

“Under the Silk Road theme, it’s not one ingredient we are choosing to showcase, but more of an idea,” says Garima Arora, famed for her modern Indian cuisine. “It’s super fun having so many chefs come together. […] It becomes very difficult and tricky to balance a menu correctly for the guests. We have a lot of pre-development talks and Zoom calls and chats to make sure that there is a cohesive flow and a logical sense to the entire menu.”

Top, from left to right: Yang Dengquan, Chudaree “Tam” Debhakam, Garima Arora
Bottom, from left to right: Marco Galtarossa, Sara Aqel, and Florita Morais Alves

Having worked with a variety of chefs as a judge during her tenure at MasterChef India, Arora knows what she’s in for, as does participant Chudaree “Tam” Debhakam, winner of Top Chef Thailand. For Debhakam, “Every collaboration that I do, I’m just so excited to exchange knowledge and to learn and to see what other chefs are doing, because sometimes you can get so bogged down in your own kitchen. This is a great opportunity for me and my team to see what other chefs are bringing, what food they’re cooking, and their flavours.” 

And flavours are also on the mind of Macanese chef Florita Morais Alves: “When curating a menu for Culinary Masters, the factors that I will consider are to bring out the most iconic ingredients of my cuisine and showcase a variety of our most traditional dishes so that the audience can experience the unique flavours of Macanese cuisine.”

MGM x RR1HK Culinary Masters Macau 2024 honours the extraordinary culinary traditions of the maritime and land routes of the Silk Road and the 700th anniversary of Marco Polo’s legendary travels. Along that route that ends on the other side of the globe is where you’ll find Aqel, who wants her dishes to be a pleasant surprise to all her guests in Macau, but with familiar flavour profiles. “It will have herbs and spices from the region I grew up in, like cinnamon, cardamom, and sumac, but also shared ingredients from the Silk Road, like soy sauce, Aleppo pepper, and duck. What we have [in ingredients] is a lot more in common than what we don’t have.” It’s something that Alves echoes, “I hope that the guests will leave knowing that although we all come from different backgrounds, our cuisines are connected through the shared heritage acquired from the Silk Road.”

As one course segues into another, Five Foot Road’s Yang Dengquan (who took part in last year’s MGM x RR1 Culinary Masters Macau 2023) steps up to say, “We will be collaborating with several chefs to prepare the dinner; we must complement each other’s offerings while also showcasing our own unique culinary perspectives. What I’m most looking forward to is interacting and communicating with international chefs, jointly exploring the ingredients and cuisines from the Silk Road.”

Each chef has, in their own way, stated they’d like to present the best of themselves, and the region they represent as unspoken ambassadors of their traditions. As Yang says, “I hope to create awe-inspiring Sichuan dishes that seamlessly blend the flavours of the diverse Silk Road cuisines with the core essence of Sichuan cooking that delivers a heavenly sensory experience using a diversified taste profile.”

In a similar stem and root, Debhakam says, “We’re representing Thailand and I want to put Thai food on the centre stage, and be able to stand next to other cuisines. And I want to be proud of the cuisine that we present.”

Her friendly neighbour, Arora, always incorporates regional ingredients and sees it as an exciting complementing part of the flavour profile, not a competing one. “There are so many similarities between Thai and Indian cuisine, but the best way to describe it is a very popular Thai saying: ‘Same, same, but different!’ The use of spices—Thai cuisine uses fresh herbs, [and] we use dry spices and dry herbs. The same ingredients in my Indian cuisine that are used for desserts, in Thai cuisine, [they] may be used in savoury selections, or vice versa. So as much as there are similarities, there is also a sort of juxtaposition in the use of ingredients.”

Finding Eastern ingredients in traditionally Western fare is nothing unique as per chef Galtarossa. “The goal is to show how contemporary Italian gastronomy is linked to Asian [gastronomy]. We blend many cultures together as we live in a globalised world. We can say that each country has its own traditions; however, through food, it is clear that we are all connected and we all need the combo: great quality and great taste. Spices such as cloves and nutmeg became the pillars of many Italian sauces. Italy has always been a connecting land for many cultures and this has enriched our history as well as our taste. It is a blessing that now we can use ingredients from all over the world.”

This very juxtaposition is what made Marco Polo’s travels so exciting, now serving as the inspiration for this culinary adventure. The 12-hands gala dinner at MGM x RR1HK Culinary Masters Macau 2024 is bound to be a moving feast to honour the grand legacy of a historical icon, featuring dishes with a sense of gravitas and gravity. Galtarossa concludes, “Chefs should believe in what they do, especially when their ideas are unconventional. However, what makes us chefs is [if our guests like our food]. Taste should win over [everything]. The goal is to always use seasonal ingredients because they give their best taste when used properly and at the perfect time. When working along with other Culinary Masters, we should all understand [each other’s] needs, but most importantly, the general goal: [connecting] our backgrounds to create an exquisite experience.”

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