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Zest Quest Asia 


February 2016

 For the second year running, a local college fielded the catering team whose skill and knowledge of Asian cuisine so impressed the judges who named them the new Zest Quest Asia champions. 

Milton Keynes College pipped rivals Doncaster College, University College Birmingham, University of West London, and former champions, Farnborough College and Westminster Kingsway College following a cook-off held at Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen, the signature restaurant of the Hilton London Heathrow T5.

Jessica Hopcraft, Jake Stokes, and Crystall Fleming - who can now look forward to enjoying their prize of a 10-day culinary journey to Bangkok, Thailand, staying at the Double Tree Hilton - created a sophisticated, 4-course, Vietnamese-inspired ensemble with drinks to match.  Placing a heavy emphasis on sustainability, their menu relied on a combination of Asian ingredients and spices, locally sourced produce (including honey grown in Milton Keynes) and meat from British breeds.

Their first course was a Vietnamese Trio, comprising an ‘allotment-grown’ beetroot pho, vermicelli and Asian greens roll, with a soy and tamarind dressing and a chilli cashew crumble, coconut and tofu banh khot, served with fresh coconut water.  The second course was a dish called Ca Kho Bream; sea bream braised in soy in a traditional clay pot, served with roasted squash, allotment-grown pak choi, stir fried in ginger, chilli and soy, mussel rice, paired with an Astley Veritas white wine from Worcestershire.  Third course, Sticky Pork, featured pork bred in Oxfordshire in a hoisin  sauce made with Milton Keynes honey, served with a sesame and peanut fried kai choi and pomello bitter sweet salad, to be washed down with Gooseberry and Elderflower Fizz.  Dessert was a banana banh flan also with Milton Keynes honey and toasted sesame tempura bananas, matched with a banana, coconut and honey bubble tea.

Cyrus Todiwala OBE, Chef Patron of Café Spice Namaste and founder of Zest Quest Asia, said, “The winning team prepared an amazing menu.  We were impressed not just by the tastes and flavours of their dishes but with how they were able to demonstrate a strong sustainability ethos.  But this competition also has a presentation element, and our champions had made a real effort during their presentation to show that they understood Vietnamese cuisine, including its East-West cultural history.  I think this competition is doing its part to gradually introduce Asian cookery as part of the catering curriculum.  That is a goal to strive towards, and I think we are getting there.”

Clive Roberts, Chairman of the Master Chefs of Great Britain, who collaborate in the organisation of the competition, said, “We had an enormously good response from colleges to the 3rd Zest Quest Asia and picking six outstanding finalists from a field of 20 was difficult.  It is a shame that there can only be one winner because all the teams had clearly worked hard.  In the end, the team from Milton Keynes College stood out.”

Darren Klein, catering tutor at Milton Keynes College, said, “I cannot tell you the extent of the good that this award will do for the College.  We are amazed and grateful to the judges of Zest Quest Asia who recognised our team’s efforts.”

Besides Todiwala and Roberts, this year’s judges included Pervin Todiwala, Co-patron of  Café Spice Namaste and an Honorary Dame d’Escoffier; Steve Munkley, Executive Chef of the Royal Garden Hotel; Murray Chapman, founder of Passion to Inspire, and Chairman of Judges, Andrew Bennett MBE, Director of Food & Beverage at Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide.

Earlier in the evening, University of West London won the ‘Least Food Wasted Award’ sponsored by Jestic, while last year’s champions, Farnborough College, took away the ‘Best Dish of the Day Award’ sponsored by Glengoyne.  The ‘Best Presented Menu Award’, another new category, sponsored by Churchill, was also presented to University of West London after a vote by guests attending the dinner.

Zest Quest Asia was founded to address the skills shortage threatening the £3.5bn Asian food industry in the UK, and to stimulate interest in Asian cookery as a career among home grown student chefs. Now in its third year, headline sponsors were Hilton T5, Tilda, Panasonic and Regale Microwaves.  Other key sponsors were Cobra, Bidvest, Autogrill, Jestic, Glengoyne and Schwartz. 

Before the gala dinner and awards ceremony, also held at Hilton T5, 250 guests enjoyed canapés prepared by students from Farnborough College.  The dinner that followed featured wines by Les Vignobles Foncalieu and a menu prepared by Chef Cyrus Todiwala featuring Chalk Stream trout, venison from the Denham Estate, North Country Mule lamb from Lord Newborough’s Rhug Estate and British Saddleback pork.

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