Asdis Bjorgvinsdottir from Iceland was calm throughout the round. However, the outcome after three hours “wasn’t quite satisfactory”. “I am not quite happy with my dessert. It’s always very difficult working in an unfamiliar kitchen and with equipment one isn’t used to working with. Tense, tense, tense... that’s all I can say,” said the 24-year-old. Arayik Amzayan loves watching food shows on TV and cooks a lot of dishes with tomatoes. “It’s always really joyful for me in the kitchen. Cooking is like a fun game. The fact that I was getting to cook and present my dishes here at YCO was the best part for me,” said the 22-year-old from Armenia. Ireland’s Jonathan Cheung seemed relieved at the end of the three hours. “It was definitely intense. The most challenging part was the ingredients since there were very few of them. Also, I am not used to cooking with some of the ingredients given to us. But I am quite happy now. Incorporating the mystery ingredient wasn’t a challenge for me. Whatever happens, we are all winners,” said the 24-year-old. Malaysia’s Lai Jia Yi was happy and extremely confident by the end of the final round. “I am really happy with the dishes I have cooked. I believe that pressure just makes your performance go down a couple of notches and I never want that to happen to me. So usually when I am competing, I calm myself down and just go for it,” said the 22-year-old who loves eating and cooking cod fish. Hong Kong’s Lee Hon Fai didn’t really know what to expect at the end of the round and was short of words. “I am a bundle of feelings right now... happy, excited, anxious... all at the same time,” said the quiet 19-year-old.
All eyes were glued to a set of 11 contestants out of the 43 taking part in the 4th International Young Chef Olympiad presented by International Institute of Hotel Management (IIHM), in association with t2. They were the Super 11 vying for the YCO trophy.
Two gruelling rounds had seen these contestants put their best ladle forward to make it to the final round. Like every year, it was supposed to be a group of 10, but the competition this time was so tight and the competitors so good that the judges had to bend the rules.
Surya Sekhar Roy Choudhury from India was both anxious and happy. The reason? “The technical judges were really strict today. And that made me a little self-conscious. But I tried to focus on my food and at the same time answer the questions that were thrown at me by them. I had to balance a lot. So it’s a mixed feeling right now. I hope it goes in my favour,” said the 24-year-old. Sickness couldn’t keep Kevin Mccafferty from taking part in the final round of the competition. “I couldn’t let my sickness get to me. At the end of the day I am in a competition and I had to go for it. I am happy that I could finish all the dishes and the flavours are good too,” smiled the contestant from Scotland. Jack Gameson from England was a little pressed for time but didn’t have any problem incorporating the mystery box ingredient in his dish. “There was so less time and so much to do. Turmeric wasn’t a difficult ingredient to work with. I am happy and relaxed now,” said the 22-year-old.
The final task? Deboning a whole chicken, cooking four portions of it along with a potato dish to complement it. Not just that, they also had to make four portions of an innovative dessert from choux pastry — all within three hours!
Sri Lanka’s Thivara Keshia Fernando was the last one to get the cooking station for the final round and naturally the wait was killing her! But at the same time she was quite surprised to have made it to the Super 11. “Firstly, I was shocked when my name was called out for Super 11 because I wasn’t expecting it. Even though my first round was good, the second wasn’t. Today I am quite happy, especially with my dessert,” said Thivara. Lim An Rui Andre was thankful that he managed to finish cooking just in time. “We were given a five-minute break in today’s round which we could use for anything. And I think that saved me because I needed those extra minutes for the chicken to cook. Last year’s winner was from my country so I am hoping and praying that I get to keep the title. My fingers are crossed!” said the 23-year-old contestant from Singapore who wants to take Singaporean cuisine to a global level. Zane Sinclair was tasting each and everything that he was cooking. After all, it was the final round and one would want to get it absolutely right. But did it turn out alright? “Firstly, I sprained my ankle and had to push through it. Secondly, the potato dish that we had to prepare as an accompaniment to the chicken dish didn’t exactly turn out the way it was supposed to. So I can’t say that I am happy. I don’t really know what will happen but I am just elated that I made it to the Super 11,” said the 19-year-old from New Zealand.
A day before the final round, they were also given a mystery ingredient — turmeric! Each of them had to incorporate turmeric in their dishes. Now that’s a fitting finale, isn’t it?
Text: Nandini Ganguly Pictures: Arnab Mondal