Three catering students from Farnborough College of Technology saw off competition from five other colleges to be crowned Zest Quest Asia champions at a gala dinner and awards ceremony held on Monday, 16th February at the Hilton London Heathrow Terminal 5. The team from The Sheffield College was named runner-up.

Rizza Eaglestone, James Spray and Liam Edmunds wowed the jury during the cook-off held earlier in the day in the kitchens of Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen, the hotel’s signature restaurant, where they produced a 4-course South East Asian menu that included a starter of Crispy Soft Shelled Crab with Thai Cucumber Salad, Coriander and Jam and a main course medley of ‘Street Food Chicken’ served alongside Thai blood sausage, steamed greens and sticky rice.

Zest Farnborough CollegeThe winning team and their tutor, Alex Wilcock, are now bound for a trip of a lifetime to Colombo in Sri Lanka, where they will be hosted by the luxury Hilton Colombo. Apart from the opportunity to work in the hotel’s kitchens and learn the secrets of Sri Lankan food and food styles, they will also have the chance to visit Colombo’s colourful food markets and tour a major food manufacturer.

Zest Quest Asia was launched in 2013 by chef and restaurateur Cyrus Todiwala with the Master Chefs of Great Britain. It is aimed at students who are permanent residents of the UK and who wish to be recognised for their knowledge and budding expertise in Asian cuisine and is a response to the looming shortage in authentic Asian culinary skills. This year, the competition attracted a record 18 entries from colleges from across the UK, with six making the final cut: besides Farnborough College of Technology and The Sheffield College, entries were fielded by Westminster Kingsway College, last year’s winners; University College Birmingham; University of West London and Doncaster College.

Deborah Nolan, Head of School at Farnborough College of Technology, who attended the dinner with college Catering Programme Manager Gwen Grace, said, ‘We are elated because it is such an honour to get this prestigious award. The students lived and breathed the competition for several weeks and they learned so much about Asian cuisine and from working with each other.’

Alex Wilcock, who tutored the winning team, said ‘Rizza, James and Liam were hungry to win, so they truly embraced the competition. They brought a lot of heart into the food they prepared. They researched the culinary trends and worked with our local butcher and other local suppliers to source local ingredients. Rizza even brought in her cultural experience by Face-timing her Filipino grandmother for advice. Now we want to go forward and winning Zest Quest Asia can only help put the college on the map.’

Pat Bray, Managing Director of Cavity Protection Systems, said, “Cavity Protection Systems is very proud to have been a gold sponsor of Zest Quest Asia and yesterday’s gala dinner was perfect for us to be able to show our support for the great work that Cyrus does in promoting the talents of young people in our industry. It was a superb event from start to finish and we were extremely impressed with the enthusiasm of the students and the passion they demonstrated for learning. Roll on next year and congratulations to Farnborough College of Technology!”

Mark Lyddy, Head of Foodservice, Tilda Rice added, ‘Once again Tilda is delighted to have sponsored this fantastic initiative. We’re looking forward to working with some of the competing colleges and experiencing first-hand the talent and passion for Asian cuisine that these young chefs have demonstrated.’

Meredith Bevan, General Manager of Hilton London Heathrow Terminal 5, a gold sponsor of Zest Quest Asia, said, ‘Personally, I have always been extremely passionate about training and developing young people, and so have all my team. It’s hugely important to be involved in competitions like Zest Quest Asia, which is preparing the next generation for relevant careers in our industry. And Cyrus Todiwala is an integral part of our team and we want to support him in flying the flag for Asian cuisine among the next generation of British cooks.’

Cyrus Todiwala said, ‘I am so delighted at the turnout for Zest Quest Asia this year, in terms of the number of colleges that entered the competition and the wealth of sponsorship from industry we were able to attract. ‘We could not have done it without the passion and diligence of the students and their tutors as well as the support of forward looking college heads who believe in what we are trying to achieve – a pipeline of young homegrown cooks who truly appreciate, understand and have the ability to prepare food in an authentic Asian style, drawing on classical Asian techniques. They are the future of our industry.’

Main sponsors of this year’s Zest Quest Asia were Hilton London Heathrow Terminal 5, Cavity Protection Systems, Tilda Rice, Panasonic, Cobra Beer, 3663, Glengoyne and Autogrill. Support in kind was provided by Bibendum, Oliver Harvey, Bernard Matthews, Town & Country Fine Foods, Vignobles Foncalieu, Chalk Stream Foods, Nigel Fredericks, Churchill, James Knight and Wenlock Spring Water.