By Denis Sheehan MIH: Triumph for University of West London in winning Zest Quest Asia 2023.
This marks the third time since the launch of the student culinary competition ten years ago that a team from the university’s London Geller College of Hospitality and Tourism has taken first place.
The results of the live cook off and knowledge presentations that comprise the finals of Zest Quest Asia were announced at a Gala Dinner and Awards Night held at the Radisson Hotel and Conference Centre London Heathrow on Friday, 17th February 2023. Some 250 guests, including representatives from colleges, industry, and the media attended the glittering evening, which included a raffle and auction to raise funds for the Todiwala Foundation.
For their efforts, Nekeshia Alcee, Olivia Parker-Smith and Prema Rebekah Kaur Sembi-Harding and their tutor, Nathan Vasanthan, bagged a trip of a lifetime – a week-long culinary and cultural journey to Bangkok, Thailand. Nathan is a seasoned Zest Quest Asia tutor, having coached and accompanied previous University of West London Zest Quest Asia champions to Manila and Hanoi.
This year, the judges were impressed by the team’s Vietnamese-inspired 4-course menu consisting of an amuse bouche of Dorset clam dumplings with Sriracha and mixed herbs; a starter of Tomato and mushroom Pho with tomato brittles; a main course of Banh chung – a Northern Vietnamese rice dish served during the Lunar Year, Lemongrass and Chilli Chicken with stir-friend broccoli stems and cabage served with carrot, daikon and Kohlrabi pickle; and a dessert of Honteri-miso glazed sticky rice banana cake with creamy coconut sauce, roasted peanuts.
Cyrus Todiwala, co-founder with Pervin Todiwala of Zest Quest Asia, said, “This was a truly magnificent evening. After 10 years, Zest Quest Asia continues to fire the creativity and imaginations of young student chefs. People are taking Asian cuisine seriously as an artform and the performance and dedication of our finalists proves that Zest Quest Asia is making a positive difference in the perception of Asian food. Congratulations to University of West London for their fabulous hat-trick and to all the finalists who have emerged as winners as well.”
The finals drew compliments from the hospitality establishment:
Robert Richardson FIH MI, chief executive of the Institute of Hospitality, who attended the Gala Dinner and Awards Night, tweeted “A pleasure to celebrate the talent, skills and outstanding knowledge of Asian cuisine at Zest Quest Asia…congratulations to each and every finalist this evening. You are all winners!”
Sheila Dillon, presenter of the BBC Food programme, commented on Twitter: “So heartening. So admire @chefcyrustodiw1 @mrstodiwala. They stick at it and change what needs changing – pushing high standards, creating jobs.”
Other winners of the evening were:
- Most Sustainable Menu Award sponsored by Meiko UK – North Highland UHI (Dornoch)
- Best Menu Planning and Presentation Award sponsored by Ian MacLeod Distillers – The Sheffield College
- Best Use of Tormek Knife Sharpener Award – North Hertfordshire College
- Minimum Wastage Award sponsored by McCormick – University of West London
- Andrew Bennett MBE Team Work Award – University College Birmingham
- Spice it Up with Schwartz Award – Cheshire College South and West
- Best Use of Hallde Food Processor – North Hertfordshire College
- Best Use of Panasonic Accelerated Combination Oven – University of West London
- Best Use of of Mizkan Japanese Seasonings – UHI North Highland
- Best Use of Tilda Rice – North Hertfordshire College
- Runner-Up of Zest Quest Asia 2023 – University College Birmingham
Zest Quest Asia was founded in 2013 by Cyrus and Pervin Todiwala, with the support of The Master Chefs of Great Britain, to address the gaps in skills and knowledge of classical Asian cuisine and to stimulate interest in Asian cookery as a viable, long-term career.