Zest Quest Asia, the competition designed to stir students’ tastebuds towards Asian textures and flavours, has gone the extra mile since the January launch of the Zest Quest Asia Tilda Challenge, its newest online spin-off sponsored by Tilda Foodservice.
Over 1,100 students and nearly 70 lecturers in 21 colleges across the UK have now taken part in interactive seminars covering the culinary histories and traditions of nine countries, including India, Vietnam, Korea and the Philippines. The seminars, each lasting up to two hours, were at the heart of a six-week virtual roadshow led by Zest Quest Asia director, Murray Chapman, who created the programme to encourage more students to take part in the competition with support from their colleges. The Zest Quest Asia seminars were carried out in parallel with on-line sessions for lecturers and students hosted by Tilda Foodservice focussing on the varieties and uses of rice.
During the seminars, Chapman guided participants through the fundamentals and complexities of Asian cuisine, including base flavours (sweet, sour or spicy), typical marinading techniques, the use of fresh and pickled fruits and vegetables, spices, condiments, dipping sauces and, most importantly, the pervasiveness of rice in Asian meals, whether as an important side dish or centrepiece. He also shared photos and tips from previous Zest Quest Asia competitions to demonstrate not only the rigour and high standards involved, but the extent of the knowledge and expertise acquired by students who took part.
Among the catering colleges and institutions that joined the Zest Quest Asia journey of discovery were Eastleigh, Cambridge, Milton Keynes, West Lothian, Sheffield, Colchester, Loughborough, New Suffolk, New City, South Lanarkshire, West Suffolk, North Hertfordshire, Basingstoke, Grimsby, Cheshire, University College Birmingham, Lakefield, Barnfield, New Durham, Taunton, and Halesowen. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with many students marvelling at their new knowledge and expressing the desire to learn more. The majority of the colleges have since committed to supporting the competition, with a number of colleges pledging multiple entries.
Cyrus Todiwala OBE DL, co-founder with Pervin Todiwala of Zest Quest Asia, said, ‘We’re delighted that Zest Quest Asia today is considered the Asian cooking competition for students. And with this virtual roadshow, it seems that we’ve succeeded in engaging colleges and students in a way we may not have before. It’s heartening to hear that they want to learn more about the cuisines of Asia and see Zest Quest Asia not just as a competition, but as an experience to really learn from. We’re extremely fortunate to have Murray on the team as this particular chef is no stranger to colleges, owing to his work with Passion to Inspire, the terrific initiative he founded to strengthen links between catering education and industry.’
Murray Chapman said, ‘To me, Zest Quest Asia is an educational journey that begins long before the actual competition and doesn’t end when the winners are announced. We really mean it when we say to students that competing is only the beginning.
‘It made everything worthwhile to hear students say how much they enjoyed learning about the flavours and spices of Asia, or that they were inspired by the talk and appreciated the tips they were given on crafting a good entry. You could almost feel them step into a different world while on the Zoom calls. Now we’re looking forward to quite a few entries for the Zest Quest Asia Tilda Challenge. We’re not taking no for an answer.’
Anthony Gascoigne, chef lecturer at North Hertfordshire College, said, ‘The virtual tour of Asia the students were taken on has inspired and sparked the students’ imaginations and creativity.
‘Zest Quest Asia continues to inspire student chefs to develop their skills in Asian cuisine. It has provided a point of focus and aspiration during lockdown. Murray delivered an engaging tour of Asia and outlined what it takes to produce top quality competition dishes. The students have benefited from his passionate, unique delivery and emphasis on flavour, colour and texture.’
Annette Coggins, Head of Foodservice, Tilda UK added, ‘The pandemic has been especially difficult for young chefs and we’re delighted that, despite the challenges of Covid-19, so much positivity has come out of the Zest Quest Asia Tilda Challenge. We hope the roadshows have given students the confidence to give Asian cuisine a try and we can’t wait to see the final entries.’
The deadline to enter the Zest Quest Asia Tilda Challenge has been extended to 24th February 2021. Six finalists will be chosen to go on to a live cook-off to decide the winner on 31st March 2021.