Grandmaster-Chef Viswanathan Anand lands unexpected title

Tarjei J. Svensen

Viswanathan Anand never imagined he'd win a title that had anything to do with fire, knives and looking at raw fish in the eye.

Well, he did.

Heading into Thursday's break at the Norway Chess tournament with reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen in the clear lead with 2.5 points out of a possible 3, all 10 players slipped into double-breasted white jackets and tall, white hats for a test of skills they didn't really pride themselves in.

Broken into five two-member teams - Levon Aronian and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave; Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Hikaru Nakamura; Ding Liren and Anand; Sergey Karjakin and Fabiano Caruana; Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So - the cook-off pitted the world's best chess players against each other for a fish, vegetables and Hollandaise sauce dish.

Anand and Ding were eventually adjudged winners with the Carlsen-So duo finishing second. Impressed by the dish the five-time world champion laid out before them, one of the judges even asked if the Indian was open to a career switch: "You want to quit playing and come and work here?"

At the outset, copies of the recipe were handed out to the teams who were tasked with making the full-bodied, satiny sauce from scratch. For inexperienced cooks, it's usually tough to get the sauce, made from egg yolk, melted clarified butter and lemon juice and given to curdling easy, right.

"The sauce can be notoriously tricky," said wife Aruna, who was witness to Anand's award-winning culinary skills. "But he cracked it in the first shot. Most of the others had to do it three or four times. In fact, Aronian was called to have a look at how Vishy had whipped up the sauce. And all this from the man who barely opens the cereal box. I'm going to get his chef's jacket framed and hung in our kitchen back home in Chennai."

The primary challenge that the cook-off presented for Anand was probably having to deal with raw fish. "We eat seafood outside but never get it or cook it at home," Aruna said. "And Anand had to do all of this with an injured partner (Ding) who fell off a bike and is headed for surgery. For the record, they put the fish in the oven and forgot to turn it on."

Simple in his food choices, Anand is the kind of guy who'd pick a serving of home-cooked rice, radish/onion sambar with potato fry over a line-up of exotic dishes. Dinner is the only meal he doesn't mind experimenting with when he's traveling.

"It's where you unwind," Anand told ESPN, "I love to try different cuisines so it's usually one main course or two starters. If you feel happy with your result you may feel like you earned a truffle risotto. On not such lucky days, a bowl of soup is enough."

With this win, Anand may just have broken fresh ground. "I think his biggest prize was that his wife ate what he cooked without much coercion," Aruna laughed. "It did taste good though and like he says this is by far his most precious title. It was won with zero preparation or expectation."