Senegal, Morocco and Israel emerged from the three elimination rounds at the XIV International Cous Cous Competition in San Vito Lo Capo, Sicily and will face off tomorrow in the final.
The three top finishers will cook the same dish they presented in the first round with one coming away as the winner of the popular vote. About 100 festival attendees have voted each dish on a scale of 1 to 5 with a new group set to vote in the final.
Concurrently, the eight of us on the jury have been holding a secret vote for each dish and the winner of this separate competition will be announced tomorrow.
In the first elimination round, Senegal, led by its cook Diatou Ba, edged out Italy with Egypt a distant third in the popular vote. Ba made a traditional recipe of couscous with fish, pumpkin and dates. With few ingredients, ten compared with triple that for some of its competitors, Ba created a well-balanced dish that afforded a few surprises tucked deep inside the couscous such as the occasional whiff of fresh ginger and the unexpected sweetness of the dates.
In the second round the French cook, Alice Delcourt, who heads up the kitchen at Erba Brusca in Milan, presented a stunning dish adorned with a large slice of mackerel, sitting on top of the couscous that had been cooked with dried fruit, sesame seeds and roasted almonds. A dollop of Greek yogurt on the side provided the perfect balance to the smoked fish. Pieces of pomegranate added a subtle sweetness and freshness. All this was not enough to beat the traditional meat and vegetable couscous made by the Moroccan chefs Fouad Charif and Larbi Lamsissi, who earned an average score of 3.94 points to France’s 3.90. Despite a stunning presentation, Palestine came a distant third with a dish damaged by overcooked duck breast.
Israel came out on top of the third round, defeating two-time champion Konaté Abibata, known as Mama Africa, of Ivory Coast as well as Tunisia. Israeli chef Boaz Cohen presented a plate inspired by the tale of Jonah and the whale, complete with a pumpkin puree representing the sun, couscous the sand, fish kebab the boat, and a perfectly cut eggplant the whale.
Apart from the actual competition, the Cous Cous Fest is also something of a week-long mega-sagra (more on that later). The streets of San Vito are filled with people eating couscous of every type and there are dozens of stands selling local products. Other events this week have included a talk by Italian food writer Paolo Marchi who touched on many aspects of his profession.