Visitors to the 15th staging of Scotland's premier hospitality show, Scothot - taking place between 12 and 15 March at Glasgow's Scottish Exhibition & Conference Centre (SECC) - will have a wealth of exhibitors, seminars, culinary demonstrations and competitions to check out.
However, for many of the 17,000 people predicted to walk through the SECC doors, the highlight will be the staging of the World Association of Cooks Societies (WACS) accredited World Culinary Grand Prix, sponsored by Caterplan.
Over the four days of the show, teams from 11 countries plus the UK's Combined Services Culinary Arts Team will compete in three specially built glass-sided hot kitchens and produce three cold buffet displays. Similar in style to the team grand prix at Hospitality Week and Hotelympia which incorporate La Parade des Chefs, the event is not for the faint-hearted.
Not only do the six-strong teams have to cook in a goldfish bowl atmosphere, but they have to operate under restaurant conditions, producing a three-course meal to be sold for £25 to show visitors eating in the 300-cover dining area attached to the kitchens (100 covers per team) - and that's only the hot side of the competition.
The cold buffet displays - split into three sections centred on canapés, dishes prepared hot but served cold, and desserts - include putting out a show platter for eight covers centred on either meat or fish, a dessert platter for six, and a five-course gourmet menu. "The buffet displays involve work which demonstrates and tests technical skills that not many chefs possess," says Tony Jackson, president of the Federation of Chefs Scotland and Scothot's Salon Culinaire director. "The grand prix itself is a great test of one's own abilities, as well as of team comradeship."
Jackson is himself a veteran of such competitions and happy to be on the organisational side this time around. "Being part of a team in a grand prix means indulging in pain, lack of sleep, worry, nervousness, high blood pressure, irritation and short temper," he jokes.
The teams lining up for this year's event are: Canada, the Czech Republic, Wales, Iceland, Ireland, Portugal, Scotland, Switzerland, the USA, Malta, the UK's Combined Services Culinary Arts Team and, for the first time, Russia. So, diners in the aptly named Restaurant of Nations will be in prime position to sample national nuances in the essentially classically based cuisine that the teams are putting out.
The Caterplan World Culinary Grand Prix is, of course, only one of more than 50 competitions taking place at Scothot. Apart from the WACS event, all Salon Culinaire competitions will be staged in the practical cookery theatre, sponsored by Garde d'Or; and the main focus for visitors and competitors alike in terms of classes for individual chefs will be the Watson & Philip Scottish Chef of the Year 2001-2002 (staged, like Scothot itself, on a biennial basis).
"It's the premier competition in Scotland," agrees Kevin MacGillivray, executive chef at Ballathie House hotel in Stanley, Perthshire, and the 1999-2000 winner of the three-and-a-half-hour competition. His sous chef, Richard Hall, is hoping to make this year's final on Tuesday 13 March, while another member of his brigade, 19-year-old chef de partie Mandy Fraser, is in contention for the title of Female Chef of the Year, which will be decided on the opening day of the show. "Competition work is a good discipline and learning curve," says MacGillivray, who assumes judging duties in a number of competitions at Scothot 2001. Visitors can also catch him giving a masterclass cookery demonstration on the Watson & Philip stand (number 4723) on Wednesday 15 March.
Of primary interest to young chefs still in education will be the Student Chef Team Challenge (like Female Chef of the Year, also sponsored by Watson & Philip), which is due to take place midway through Scothot on Wednesday 14 March. The competition, now in its third year, has previously been staged at Hotelympia and travels north for the first time and, another first, boasts a team from Johnson County Community College in Kansas, USA, among its 10 finalists.
Culinary competitions are only one element of a hospitality show, and visitors to Scothot can also get up to speed with the latest products and produce on the market. Being Scotland's premier catering show makes the exhibition an ideal showcase for local suppliers, and a number of Scottish businesses are taking the opportunity to catch the attention of a national audience.
For instance, an alliance of producers from Perth & Kinross can be found exhibiting under the umbrella of the district's council. These include Scotherbs, which will be promoting its new range of Fresh Herb Mustards, and K-Computer, which will be introducing its new software package for hotels, called Mainstay.
Other Scottish firms with a presence at Scothot include the Isle of Mull's Tobermory Fish Company - adding to its smoked fish range with the launch of a new smoked mussel product; clothing manufacturer Hewats Edinburgh - launching a new range of tartan garments; Benbecula-based Hebrides Harvest, with hot smoked salmon products from the Western Isles; Edinburgh coffee and tea merchants Brodies, which is launching three new products at the show; and Ayrshire ice-cream manufacturer Nardini, presenting a new range of hand-baked cakes.
Among the leading UK names exhibiting are equipment manufacturer Foster Refrigerator, Hobart Manufacturing, Continental Chef Supplies, Electrolux Leisure Appliances, frozen food leaders Brake Bros and chocolatier Barry Callebaut.
Front of house visitors to the show can also catch up on the latest wine trends at Wine Scotland. Operating on the first two days of the show only, this represents Scotland's largest display of wines and liqueurs and will be incorporating a number of tutored tastings and seminars, including a special focus on health and safety issues.
In addition, three seminars that aim to provide practical business help for hoteliers, publicans and restaurateurs will be hosted by HM Customs and Excise in Scotland between 10.30am and 12.30pm on a daily basis during the run of the show. These are centred on environmental health (billed as "everything you always wanted to know about hazard analysis in food safety but were too afraid to ask") and the inland revenue (case studies and guides to the legitimate cutting of red tape and discussion of the impact of the shadow economy on legal trade). Further information on these events is available from Brian Mathison on 0131-469 7330.
Should the seminars prove informative, but dry, visitors who also belong to the Scottish Licensed Trade Association can call in at its pavilion, which includes a lounge area for members as well as an information point and displays featuring drinks, producers and distributors.