City wins teen chef crown - Calcutta Girls student tops it

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  • Published 20.10.14

Garima Poddar likes her friends calling her Garry after Gary Mehigan, her favourite judge on Masterchef Australia.

And true to the Masterchef nickname, the Calcutta Girls High School Class XII student won the IIHM Young Chef India Schools 2014 contest at the University of West London on Saturday and retained the crown that Simran Kapur had won for Calcutta last year.

The finals of the inter-school cooking competition — held by the International Institute of Hotel Management (IIHM), in association with t2 — saw six finalists from six Indian cities (Calcutta, Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Pune and Ahmedabad) battle it out with their plates and pans to serve up meals to some of the best-known Indian chefs in London.

Wearing the judges’ hat at the London finale were Andy Verma, who owns restaurants Vama and Chakra in the UK, Dipna Anand whose family owns and runs Brilliant restaurant in London’s Southall area largely inhabited by Indians, Romy Gill of Romy’s Kitchen in South Gloucestershire, and closer home t2 columnist Shaun Kenworthy and Sector V IIHM’s chef Sanjay Kak.

How apt it was for the IIHM Young Chef India Schools contest to culminate in London was underlined by Virendra Sharma, MP, Ealing Southall, the chief guest at the evening prize distribution, who pegged the number of Indian restaurants in the UK at 60,000.

But what did Calcutta girl Garima do that the others didn’t? For one, she churned out 10 dishes in a three-hour-long cookout, a number unmatched by any other contestant. “Her biggest challenge was getting all her dishes right because she made so many,” agreed the judges, all of who gave Garima the highest score.

The Southern Avenue resident pinned her win down to two factors — confidence and practice. “I know it sounds cliched but practice does make perfect. I strived to make at least three dishes a day to prepare for the finals. One day, I did a 100 roti challenge just to get that perfect roti shape and all the rotis were given to the needy,” said Garima.

Like Garima, her other five competitors made it past 8,000 students who participated in the Young Chef competition over six months. Two got their visas in the nick of time and reached two hours before the contest kicked off while the Jaipur girl had to give it a miss, cutting down the number of finalists to six from seven.

In the two days they all spent in London before the finals, food was the only thing on Garima’s mind. Ask the Lebanese hairdresser at Eli’s Hair & Beauty on Kew Bridge Road who was unexpectedly pulled into a casual conversation on tahini, babaganoush and shawarma as she settled down for a wash-and-blow dry! Or the Kadai Chicken that was sampled at a local restaurant down the road from the hotel.

“In fact, it was for this competition that I started having non-veg,” said the spunky Marwari girl. “Non-veg is not cooked at home but we eat it outside. Initially, I would nibble on chicken; now I can eat a whole chicken meal!”

Which is why chicken featured on what the judges called her “buffet”. There was Chicken Garam Masala Roast, Nageese Kofta (egg wrapped in chicken keema) “learnt from my mom’s friend”, Kheera Ka Kachoree “learnt from dadi”, Bhaap Tashtari, Fish-E-Hariyaali, Lemon Rice, Gobi Dahi Ki Sabji and a fusion dessert Gajar Ka Halwa with Lemon Cheesecake. She also made an Amuse Gueule called Salata (frozen salad) and an Assamese dish called Narasingha Paator Maas “inspired by a YouTube video of Gordon Ramsay cooking Assamese food in Assam”.

The commerce student who loves economics also made all the right calculations and moves. Like when she used micro-greens to garnish her dishes, an idea picked up from Shaun’s cooking demonstration the previous day. Or when “I decided not to make rotis because they would have to be made last and would eat into my plating time”, she said.

Her future plans? “It’s either economics or cooking and after this contest, the scales are tilting more in favour of the latter,” she signed off, clutching in her hands the winning trophy, a cheque for Rs 5 lakh and a placard that read ‘Garry’s Kitchen’, which she had proudly displayed on her table.

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