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Zest Quest Asia 


14th of February 2020

University College Birmingham takes Zest Quest Asia 2020 crown

(London, 14th February 2020) 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, Thailand’s premier luxury hotel and resorts group. 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 Five (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. 

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.  

Other awards and prizes announced during the evening were:

  • Panasonic Cooker Round – The Sheffield College, who won a ‘money can’t buy’ experience to cook for an event hosted by the Japanese Ambassador to the Court of St James, working alongside the Japanese Embassy’s chef

  • Tilda Best Use of Rice – New City College, Hackney who won a ‘Tilda Italia Tour’, exploring the Arborio Rice Mill and Milan’s gastronomic scene.

  • Castelnau Best Wine Pairing Award – The Sheffield College, who will undertake a bespoke wine masterclass and dinner at a 5-star Central London hotel hosted in a private dining environment 

  • Best Use of Robot Coupe Machine – University of West London who took home a brand new Robot Cook Machine and Micromix stick blenders

  • Glengoyne Best Menu Planning Award –  North Hertfordshire College, who won bottles of 18-year old Glengoyne Single Malt Whisky

  • Chefi Minimum Wastage Award –  University College Birmingham, who won sets of Chefi Knife Rolls

  • Lincolnshire Game Best Use of British Produce - Loughborough College, who will enjoy a ‘field to fork’ experience with a tour of a shooting estate followed by a visit to the Lincolnshire Game state of the art facility.

  • KellyBronze Best Local Sourcing – Loughborough College, who will visit the KellyBronze farm for a fun day of learning

The event opened with a drinks and canape reception with platters of chicken adobo, prawn kare-kare and bibingka prepared by outgoing Zest Quest Asia champions, the University of West London, who took inspiration from their prize trip to Manila. Dinner featured a 4-course Goan-Portuguese menu designed by Cyrus with dessert by Granny Gothard and Town and Country Fine Foods. 

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. 

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.”

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.

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