First prize in culinary challenge

 A Colchester student has been named winner of the first Zest Quest Asia Summer Challenge, the first completely on-line spinoff of Zest Quest Asia, the culinary competition founded by Indian restaurateurs Cyrus and Pervin Todiwala to raise the profile of Asian cuisine among budding chefs.

Ryan Plummer, a professional chef student at Colchester Institute, won first prize for his King Prawn Tempura Starter served with a mango, red onion and chilli salsa, accompanied by a lemon mayonnaise, burnt butter crumb and micro-coriander. The judges praised Ryan’s decision to recreate an authentic Japanese dish with an original twist. Ryan wins a lunch or dinner for four people, including Colchester Institute tutor Ian Perkins, at Café Spice Namaste, the Todiwalas’ flagship restaurant in Whitechapel.

The first Zest Quest Asia Summer Challenge was conceived by the Todiwalas with Murray Chapman, Director of Passion to Inspire and First Contact Chefs. Their aim was to encourage students aged 16-21 with permanent residency in the UK to challenge their imaginations during lockdown by creating an Asian-inspired dish in their own home kitchens and posting the results on-line. The winners were chosen from 18 finalists drawn from seven different colleges.

Ryan Plummer, the first Zest Quest Asia Summer Challenge champion, said, ‘I’m thrilled to be chosen as the first Zest Quest Asia Summer Challenge champion, as the competition was tough, and there were many other great entries. I chose to enter the competition following on from my experience at Zest Quest Asia 2019. Now I’m looking forward to the meal to be cooked by Cyrus. I’d like to thank Colchester Institute and Milsoms Kesgrave Hall for their support.’

Ian Perkins, Assistant Head of Area for Hospitality and Food Studies at Colchester Institute, congratulated Ryan on his success. ‘We are really proud of Ryan’s achievement in being crowned the winner of the first Zest Quest Asia Summer challenge. Ryan used the skills he has learnt at college and in his workplace, along with the experience he gained from entering the Zest Quest competition in 2019 to create his winning dish. Congratulations Ryan’.

Cyrus Todiwala said, ‘We were very impressed by the entries to our first Zest Quest Asia Summer Challenge. The talent and ambition was clear to see. Our champion Ryan stood out for the originality of his dish and how it reflected the ethos of Zest Quest Asia. In fact, all our winners were deserving for the obvious hard work they’d put in and their excellent entries. It was a tough decision.

‘We’re glad that Zest Quest Asia hasn’t lost its momentum, but we hope that the main competition will be able to run again next year to keep our young budding chefs motivated and challenged. We want them to keep aspiring to Asian cuisine as a first-choice career option. Ultimately, it’s not just the students but our industry that will reap the benefits.’

Pervin Todiwala said, ‘‘The response to our first Zest Quest Summer Challenge proves that young chefs are keener than ever to expand their knowledge and skills in Asian cookery and cuisine. Its success is also down to the forward-looking tutors and colleges who continued to encourage and motivate them, even during lockdown.’

Murray Chapman said, ‘Inspiring these fantastic chefs through the Zest Quest Asia Summer Challenge has been a great experience. Judging their thoughtfully planned creations and more so when taking into account that none had the facility of their college or professional kitchen. The work they all put in was outstanding and I was very proud to have judged all their entries. Congratulations to all those who took part.’