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Sheffield College students celebrate Zest Quest Asia win and ‘Sugarlandia’ trip

Three student chefs from The Sheffield College are enjoying the sweet taste of success after being crowned the Zest Quest Asia 2022 champions.

Zest Quest Asia was founded by restaurateurs Cyrus and Pervin Todiwala with the support of the Master Chefs of Great Britain in 2013. The competition recognises outstanding talent, knowledge and understanding of Asian cuisine.

For their outstanding efforts, culinary students Jack Hayes, Max Heath and Rhiannon Siddall, along with their tutor, Andrew Gabbitas, have won an educational trip of a lifetime to Manila and the province of Negros Occidental (popularly known as ‘Sugarlandia’) in the Philippines.

The prize, sponsored by Don Papa Rum, will enable the team to discover first-hand the sights, smells and tastes of traditional Filipino cuisine, and participate in a range of activities including culinary master classes and a charity dinner.

In addition, The Sheffield College team will enjoy the rare opportunity to visit the lands and distillery in the southern Philippines where Don Papa Rum is produced from local sugarcane.

Student Max Heath, 18, said: “I am absolutely over the moon with our achievement of winning the competition. We put in a lot of hard work and time getting our menu to the standard we wanted it to be and we are happy to see that has paid off.”

He added: “The experience of taking part in the final was amazing. I was extremely happy to meet many nice people whether it be the other students or the people who helped organise and judge. I think the competition will help open many doors for the future.”

Student Rhiannon Siddall, 18, said: “When we won, I was over the moon. We were up against some amazing people from different colleges across the UK. We were all so happy and surprised when they said that we had won the best use of rice and then the big prize. Winning something like this will help my career; not many people have won this competition and lots of companies will know what it is.”

Student Jack Hayes, 17, said: “I still can’t get over the fact that we won! It was a sublime experience and one that has opened up so many doors for the team’s future. We learnt so many new things throughout our journey and it is nice to see all the hard work over the past few months has paid off and become highly rewarding.”

Andrew Gabbitas, Chef Lecturer, Catering and Hospitality, The Sheffield College, said: “I am absolutely delighted for our young students on their winning Zest Quest Asia 2022. Their tireless efforts and dedication have really paid off.”

He added: “To execute a menu with no protein, in such a highly esteemed competition, took a lot of courage. Their flavour profiles were spot on. Moreover, throughout the competition, the camaraderie among all the competing students and their lecturers was first class, a true pleasure to be a part of.”

The Zest Quest Asia winners were announced at a gala dinner and awards night held on April 8th 2022 at the Hilton London Heathrow Airport Terminal 5.

The winning team stood out for its Vietnamese-inspired menu comprising a:

  • Goi cuon amuse bouche, a summer roll made from homemade turmeric rice rolls, filled with watermelon, seasoned with lime, salt and sriracha seasoning, beansprouts, and toasted cashews.
  • Bahn Khot starter, crispy pancake made with toasted jasmine rice, basmati rice flour, turmeric, puffed wild rice, seasoned with sriracha.
  • Bun Cha main course, caramelised seiten balls with basmati rice noodles, pickled vegetables.
  • Vietnamese Vanilla Sponge dessert soaked in rum syrup with Vietnamese coffee ice cream and rum-macerated pineapple.

This year marked the long-awaited return of the live cook-off and in person awards evening after a pandemic-induced two-year gap, which the organisers filled with three successful online spinoffs.

Cyrus Todiwala OBE DL FIH, said: “I am so proud of the fact that our Zest Quest Asia competitors were performing like true professionals, with the attitude and mindset of winners. Their menus were exceptional, and the judges and I were taken aback by the scale of their ambition, with one college even offering a menu tracing the length of the Silk Road.”

He explained: “But despite the tightness of the competition, there could only be one overall winner, and The Sheffield College inspired our imaginations and taste buds with a brilliantly executed menu that captured the cooking techniques and tastes of Vietnam.

“We are deeply grateful to our sponsors and supporters, many of whom have worked closely with the students and colleges to ensure they could incorporate the latest industry trends in ingredients, flavours and technology. And having experienced the Philippines myself, I cannot begin to describe the exciting world that awaits our winners in Don Papa Rum’s ‘Sugarlandia’! Congratulations to the worthy winners.”

Joanna Kennedy, Marketing Manager of the Bleeding Heart Rum Company, creators of Don Papa Rum, said: “Zest Quest Asia was a spectacular event to be part of. Not only did the students blow us away with their craftsmanship and ingenuity, but they explored daring flavour combinations we had never seen before. It was phenomenal to introduce and cultivate Asian cuisines amongst these young, budding chefs.

She added: “Don Papa Rum and Zest Quest Asia share the advocacy to raise awareness and celebrate Asian heritage in food and drink. And we wanted to support the bounce-back of the hospitality industry after a very difficult few years and engage with aspiring chefs to help keep their dreams alive.”

In addition to being named the new Zest Quest Asia champions, The Sheffield College team also won the Tilda Special Award for the Best Use of Rice, which will take them on another exclusive trip, this time to Northern Italy.

The other Zest Quest Asia 2022 winners were:

  • The Andrew Bennett MBE Award for Best Teamwork – Loughborough College
  • Best Use of Microwave – Colchester Institute
  • Best Wine Pairing – North Hertfordshire College
  • Best Use of Rum – Westminster Kingsway College
  • Best Use of British Produce – North Hertfordshire College
  • Best Use of Spices – University College Birmingham
  • Best Menu Compilation, Balance and Planning – Colchester Institute
  • Worshipful Company of Cooks Food Waste Award – Colchester Institute

The reception canapes were prepared by students at the University of West London’s London Geller College of Hospitality and Tourism.

The evening’s special guest speaker was Lord Karan Billimoria CBE DL, president of the Confederation of Business Industry (CBI), who encouraged the 200-strong audience from industry and education to “pursue non-stop curiosity and non-stop learning…Learn as if you are going to live forever.”


Pictured: The Sheffield College team celebrates winning Zest Quest Asia 2022.

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