University College Birmingham students crowned Zest Quest Asia 2020 champions


The winning team celebrating on the night with Cyrus Todiwala

University College Birmingham is the new Zest Quest Asia champion, with the team and their mentor winning a culinary and cultural trip of a lifetime to Bangkok as guests of Dusit International. In addition, they will undertake training in Thai cuisine at the Dusit Thani’s signature Thai restaurant and at the recently launched Le Cordon Bleu Dusit Culinary School. They will also meet five of Thailand’s leading chefs in their Michelin-starred restaurants.  

The awardees and their accompanying first prize were announced at a gala dinner held at the Hilton London Heathrow Airport Terminal (Hilton T5) attended by over 250 food, drink and hospitality industry representatives, catering equipment suppliers, colleges, students, the trade media and numerous well-wishers on Friday, 7th February. Also in attendance were key representatives and officers from the Japanese Embassy and the Philippine Department of Tourism in the UK. This is the second time that University College Birmingham has won Zest Quest Asia, the last time being in 2017.

This year, University College Birmingham students John Almeida, Dorottya Kalo, Goncalo Machado, with the guidance of their mentor, Lewis Walker, won over the judges with their bold 3-course Pan-Asian menu inspired by the cuisines of Thailand, Sri-Lanka and Japan.

Their winning culinary showcase, prepared during a live cook-off at Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen earlier in the day, comprised a starter of Thai Langoustine ‘Mi Krop’ Croquette, Langoustine & Spinach Bisque, Mango & Coconut Salsa; a main course of Sri Lankan Monkfish ‘Malu Mirisata’ Curry, Cashew Sauce, Spiced Infused ‘Kiribath’ Rice Green Bean Salad, ‘Wattaka Kalu Pol’ Pumpkin Curry, Tomato Sambal, and a dessert of Japanese Cherry Blossom Garden Dark Chocolate and Yuzu ‘Namelaka’, Macha ‘Kasutera sponge, Spiced Cherries, Sesame Oil, Blossom Garnish.

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A busy day for the judges selecting the winners, well done all

The judges were equally impressed by the team’s performance during the presentation and interview that followed, where they had the opportunity to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of their chosen cuisines’ underlying cultural and historical traditions.

Now on its seventh series, Zest Quest Asia 2020 is a competition that celebrates – and generously rewards — talent and ambition in the Asian culinary arts among student chefs in Britain. Founded by restaurateurs Cyrus Todiwala OBE DL and Pervin Todiwala with the involvement of the Master Chefs of Great Britain, it aims to raise the profile of Asian cuisine as a career among budding chefs. By doing so, it hopes to stem the loss of skills in traditional Asian cookery brought on by restrictive immigration and to one day see Asian cuisine embedded in the curriculum.

The evening’s special guest speaker was Emmy-nominated TV chef and cookery author, Ching He-Huang, who admitted that she had been ‘bowled over’ by the standards displayed at the final cook-off. She stressed the importance of hard work and patience in achieving one’s goals.

Leading the panel of judges was chairman Andrew Bennett MBE (currently chairman of the Craft Guild of Chefs). His fellow judges were Cyrus and Pervin Todiwala of Café Spice Namaste, Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen and Mr Todiwala’s Petiscos; Ching He-Huang; Steve Munkley of the Royal Garden Hotel, Clive Roberts of Master Chefs of Great Britain, Murray Chapman of Passion to Inspire, and top pastry chef Sarah Hartnett.  The evening was emceed by Nigel Barden, the BBC broadcaster, food and drink journalist, and chef.

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Pervin Todiwala, said, “Zest Quest Asia has gone from strength to strength. The students who compete truly own the competition, and feel they are on a journey of discovery. To see how proud they are of their accomplishments, after all the nerves have melted away, is truly rewarding.”

Just one of the many dishes on the night

Cyrus Todiwala said, “The enthusiasm of the students, tutors and colleges this year has been phenomenal. Together with our terrific sponsors and supporters, they have helped us to get the message across that Asian cuisine has standards of excellence that challenge even the most committed of students. That Zest Quest Asia as a competition has standards and rewards worth preparing and striving for. Each year, we aim higher and higher.

“I have to single out our sponsors and supporters who not only helped us materially, but played a huge role in inspiring the students. On behalf of everyone involved in putting this competition together, I would like to say a very huge thank you for helping us to deliver Zest Quest Asia 2020, and for playing a part in motivating today’s youth to look at Britain’s wide panoply of cuisines.”

A raffle and silent auction held on the night raised £5,000 for a funding pot to help deliver future Zest Quest Asia competitions as well as deliver bursaries in Asian culinary education.

H&C News would like to congratulate University College Birmingham students John Almeida, Dorottya Kalo, Goncalo Machado, as well as their mentor, Lewis Walker. We also congratulate Pervin and Cyrus Todiwala on seven Zest Quest Asia events, all helping students to develop a career in hospitality. Last and not least, congratulations also to the judges and many others who contribute their time, and much more, to helping students better understand the wonders of Asian Cuisine.

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