(10th June, London) Chef demos, food markets and tea plantations… does a culinary escapade get any better than this?  Not for the three talented student chefs and their teachers from Farnborough College.  They were bowled over by their once-in-a-lifetime trip to Colombo, Sri Lanka, a worthy prize for the current Zest Quest Asia champions.

For nine days in April, Rizza Eaglestone, James Spray and Liam Edmunds, who were accompanied by course tutor Alex Wilcock and Andreas Hein, enjoyed the gracious hospitality of the 4-star deluxe Hilton Colombo Hotel, where they were guests of Executive Chef Daniel Leah.

Having triumphed over some of the UK’s top catering colleges at a cook-off held at the Hilton London Heathrow Terminal 5 in February — wowing judges including competition founder Cyrus Todiwala, Chef Patron of Café Spice Namaste, with their 4-course South East Asian menu – the Farnborough team could now witness first hand Sri Lanka’s burgeoning food scene.

Early in the trip they observed a cookery demonstration at the ‘Curry Leaf’ one of Hilton Colombo’s outdoor restaurants, where they were shown how to prepare such local delicacies as ‘Kakukuwo’, a crab curry, as well as devilled chicken and yellow Suduru Samba rice.  Next was an unforgettable dawn visit to the local fish market, where they watched catfish, tuna, green cromide, Malabar sprats and lipstick goby, amongst others, swiftly change hands.  Later, a trip to the vegetable market in the centre of Colombo with its mountains of fruit, vegetables and spices proved equally intoxicating.  The group were soon tucking into the popular ‘Hoppers’, a basket of fermented batter made from rice flour and coconut milk filled with eggs and ‘Pittu’, a cylinder of steamed rice mixed with grated coconut, as they ate their way through the streets of Sri Lanka’s capital city.

“We were fortunate enough to learn how to prepare and cook a number of typical Sri Lankan dishes back in the hotel kitchens,” said Wilcock.  “They were so impressed by our excitement for their local gastronomy that one of the Hilton chefs even went out to market to buy an array of special cooking utensils so that we could make these new dishes in England.”

What the Farnborough quintet were also to learn about ‘Ceylon Tea’ during their visit to a tea plantation – the Rilhana Estate, 153 metres above sea level – would change their views of tea forever. Their tea journey included a twelve-course ‘taster menu’ matching different foods with various teas, including the slightly unnerving combination of beef burgers with Earl Grey and pork sausages with Darjeeling.

SAM_group photo at market for siteAlex Wilcock said, “We consider this to have been a trip of a lifetime and feel immensely privileged that we were able to experience fragments of a truly fascinating country with all its cultural and culinary heritage.  We have taken our newly learned skills back home to the UK and are excited to inspire and share our experiences with our communities.”

Cyrus Todiwala said, “I am truly grateful to fantastic sponsors like the Hilton Colombo for their massive contribution in making this trip a success for the winners of Zest Quest Asia.  It was a terrific base for the team to explore an emerging Asian gastronomic powerhouse, and one with such significant, historic ties with Britain.  What Rizza, James and Liam have learned on this trip no one can ever take away from them.  Hopefully, their experience will inspire other budding chefs of Asian cuisine to throw their hat into the Zest Quest Asia ring.”

Tempted to enter?  A number of universities and colleges across the Britain Isles have already expressed their interest in entering Zest Quest Asia 2016, including the University of West London, University College Birmingham, Highlands College in Jersey, City of Glasgow College, Bexhill 6th Form College and Leeds City College; and this is what Cela Ghale, a finalist from Doncaster College, said of her encounter, “It was a surreal experience, just insane yet so awesome.  The experience itself was a great gift to us.  Thank you for giving us such a great opportunity.”

Zest Quest Asia was founded by Cyrus Todiwala OBE and is organised in association with the Master Chefs of Great Britain.  It aims to recognise the knowledge and skills of students in Asian cuisine. Students must have permanent residency in the UK.

Closing date for entries is 6th November 2015 and paper judging will take place during the week commencing 16th November 2015.

The cook-off for the six finalists will again be held at the Hilton London Heathrow Terminal 5 on Monday 15th February 2016, followed by a Gala Dinner where the winners will be announced.