The Zest Quest Asia Tilda Challenge 2021 champion

A @sheffcol catering student has won a top industry competition and mentoring from a celebrity chef.

Talented trainee chef Oliver Herrington, 20, is the winner of this year’s Zest Quest Asia Tilda Challenge announced this month, and has won an exclusive masterclass with celebrity chef Cyrus Todiwala.

This week, Oliver was presented with a certificate and prizes including chef knives, a chef’s jacket and Tilda food, at a ceremony held on Monday, April 12th, 2021.

The Zest Quest Asia Tilda Challenge 2021 is a virtual spinoff of Zest Quest Asia, the national student culinary competition founded by restaurateurs Cyrus and Pervin Todiwala, with the Master Chefs of Great Britain, to recognise outstanding talent, knowledge and understanding of Asian cuisine. Headline sponsored by Tilda Foodservice, the competition’s finals were livestreamed, involving 12 students from 10 colleges on March 31st.

Andrew Gabbitas, Catering Lecturer, The Sheffield College, who mentored Oliver, said: “I am so proud of Oliver. To win this national competition backed by top industry experts is an incredible achievement, particularly given the challenges of the pandemic. It’s great to see all the hard work pay off.”

He added: “We have been determined to ensure that our students continue to benefit from competitions, industry experts and guest speakers, with adaptations made online, to ensure our students go further and get the skills that catering and hospitality employers need.”

Oliver, who is completing the Professional Chef’s Diploma at the College’s City Campus on Granville Road, said: "When I found out that I had won the competition, I was shaking with excitement. It was an amazing feeling!”

Oliver explained: “What I have most loved about the Zest Quest Asia Tilda Challenge is that it isn't just a cooking competition - it's so much more than that. You dive headfirst into the cultures and history of a dish, which gives more meaning to the dish you create and provides you with a greater understanding of the ingredients.”

He added: “Thanks to the support of Mr Gabbitas, I have learned how to make a dish to a high restaurant standard and discovered things I never would have thought to make myself, such as rice noodles. 

“Studying at The Sheffield College was the best choice for my career. The knowledge from all the lectures has helped me massively in the competition. As my time at the College draws to a close, I can honestly say it has been an amazing four years where I have learned and grown so much as a chef."

Competitors had to showcase their skills, knowledge and cooking techniques in a range of Asian cuisines in a live cook off, held in the kitchens of their respective colleges, on March 31st, 2021.

Oliver was inspired by a Japanese dish created in 1899 and prepared a Nagasaki Ramen-marinated glazed pork belly served with langoustine, mussels and kamaboko, fried wood ear mushrooms with garlic and ginger broth, and handmade basmati rice noodles.

The judges felt the dish went ‘above and beyond every part of the criteria’ with its creativity, good flavour, texture and skill.  The final was judged by Cyrus and Pervin Todiwala, Murray Chapman, Steve Munkley and Jo Witchell from Tilda Foodservice.

The competition is headline sponsored by Tilda Foodservice who, in collaboration with the Todiwalas, hope to inspire student chefs across the UK to consider Asian cookery as a future career by recognising outstanding talent, knowledge and understanding of the cuisine.  

Celebrity chef Cyrus Todiwala said: “Oliver is a worthy Zest Quest Asia - Tilda Challenge champion. His winning dish was outstanding on so many levels and reflected everything this competition was about – his fantastic use of Tilda rice, the research he undertook to learn more about an Asian culture and its cuisines, and the talent and ambition he displayed in creating and executing a superb award-winning dish."

He added: “Pervin, myself, our director Murray and all the Zest Quest Asia team are grateful to Tilda Foodservice for the commitment and resources they’ve poured into the Zest Quest Asia - Tilda Challenge 2021. It’s unbelievably rewarding to see that our passion to ensure student chefs develop skills and knowledge in Asian cuisine is also shared by college lecturers up and down the country, as well as the tasting judges who shared their expertise with us.”

Annette Coggins, Head of Foodservice, Tilda UK, said: “This year’s competition was tougher than ever before, with the chefs creating a diverse range of dishes and executing each one to the highest quality. At Tilda we pride ourselves on innovation and the versatility of our rice products and that’s why Oliver took the trophy this year. We do want to say that we consider everyone who got to this final stage as a winner, so we extend our thanks and congratulations to all the finalists.”

To recognise as many students as possible, all entries to the competition were reviewed by MSC Seafood, who also awarded Ben Addy, from The Sheffield College, first place in a special Best Use of Fish prize, designed to encourage the next generation of chefs to think about sourcing and cooking with sustainable fish. 

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