As the saying goes if you can’t stand the heat stay out of the kitchen. However, for the ten entrants in the 2013 Junior Chef Competition, they proved not only could they stand the heat but also create fabulous dishes under tense conditions, too.
Competing for the grand prize of two tickets to St Kitts and accommodation for three nights at the St Kitts Marriott Resort and Casino, the title of 2013 Junior Chef Champion was also up for grabs.
Displaying a wide array of culinary skills, competitors came from various parts of Trinidad and Tobago for the second annual competition held at Courtyard by Marriott, Invaders Bay, Port of Spain, on August 23.
Starting promptly at 10 a.m., these junior chefs between the ages ten and 12 were given two hours to prepare a dish using items from a mystery basket provided by the judges. The mystery ingredients included a choice of pasta/potato, cucumber, pineapples, bell peppers and chicken.
“This year the competition is a little bit different than last year. Last year competitors were given four ingredients in the mystery basket to incorporate into their dish, this year we have five. Competitors would also be judged on their butchery skills in breaking down half a chicken which is an added component at this year’s competition,” said executive chef of Courtyard by Marriott, Raymond Joseph.
He said the reason for the change stemmed from the quality of chefs every year and to maintain a competitive level overall.
For one week, the top ten junior chefs were trained in technique, preparation and presentation by Chef Joseph.
They were also invited to participate in a culinary video competition, through the creation of a video cooking demo.
The first competitor in for the morning was Emily Phillips. Her dish was a pan-seared chicken breast with cheesy pasta veloute accompanied by veggie and fruit kebabs and cucumber chow.
Chef Joseph said, “The children don’t come with prepared dishes. Once they have seen the items in the mystery basket they come up with a dish by themselves and present it to the judges.
“To ensure things ran smoothly, we had the children do staggered starts in order for the judges to easily see and move between each station,” he added.
One of the tallest girls in the competition, Tyler Hunt, seemed at ease in the kitchen. Cooking since she was ten years old, Hunt at 13 enjoys making good food.
Speaking with the Express, right after she presented her dish to the judges, Hunt said, “I was a bit nervous before the competition. However, once I started cooking I was able to settle down and not get distracted.” Apart from cooking, Hunt also enjoys writing.
This year’s competition was spearheaded by Chef Joseph who gave an overview of the competition and why he does it every year.
He said, “Through this competition these young chefs will learn knife techniques and types of cuts, cooking methods, preparing batters, dough, marinades, culinary terms as well as safety and sanitation to name a few.
“I do this because I care about the industry and I want to ensure that there will always be a pool of young and talented chefs. I want to know that when I become too old to do this anymore, there will be talented chefs like myself or even greater than me to carry on.”
Competitors were given one hour to prepare their marinades or sauces and hand in their menus to the judges. During that time no cooking was allowed. Once the hour had passed then they could proceed to the next station, Chef Joseph said.
Another competitor, Anya Julien, had quite an extensive dish consisting of crazy bitters chicken cartwheels with rocking roasted bell peppers; served with pasta topped with bitters vinaigrette, mashed potatoes with a gaufrette chip and Angostura bitters mayo dip.
One of the few boys in the competition, Glenson Nickey, showed the female chefs that boys could cook too. He presented the judges with his dish comprised of a simple Spanish rice, pineapple chicken and potato salad.
Ten-year-old Nickey, though small in stature, made his presence felt through his powerful voice but more importantly through his food.
Judging the competition was captain of the Trinidad and Tobago Culinary Team, Sabrina Rosales, chairman of the Trinidad Hotels Restaurants and Tourism Association, Rachel Bryden-Rochford, Caribbean Hotel Association Junior Chef 2013, Naiomi Lovell, and public affairs and communications manager at Angostura, Giselle La Ronde-West.
The judges critiqued competitors on presentation/cooking methods/techniques which carried a maximum of five points. They also looked at portion size, nutritional balance and menu accuracy which both carried a maximum of five points each.
Creativity carried a maximum score of ten points along with flavour while taste carried 15 points and texture five points.
Judges could also credit a competitor with five bonus points which gives an overall maximum score of 60.
Competitors for the 2013 Junior Chef Competition were as follows: Tyler Hunt, Darius Mulchan, Jonathan John, Glenson Nickey, Emily Phillips, Anya Julien, Aliard Jerome, Sydney Lopez, Shania and Shakira De Souza.
Executive chef Joseph said, “When I was younger, cooking was not seen as a career so I want parents to understand and appreciate their children’s passion for cooking.”
The awards ceremony takes place on Friday at 9.30 a.m.