This year ten competitors went head-to-head at the first ever annual Junior Chef Competition held at Courtyard by Marriott yesterday.
These young hopefuls between the ages 10 and 12 sought to crush the competition and take home the grand prize of two tickets to Curacao and accommodation at the Curacao Marriott and the title of Junior Chef Champion.
Starting at 11 a.m., these junior chefs were given an hour to prepare a dish using items from a mystery basket compiled by the judges.
The competitors were given pineapple as one of the mystery ingredients to work with. The first competitor in the culinary "throw down" was Adnan Baksh. His dish was chicken and veggie Chinese style stir fried. As the first competitor for the morning Baksh admitted he was a little nervous. He began cutting up his seasonings and chicken.
Things were going smoothly for the 12-year-old until he ran into some difficultly with the mystery ingredient and accidently cut his finger. He was assisted by student chefs on the floor and quickly regrouped to finish his dish.
He said, "The inspiration of my dish came from a trip I took with my father to San Francisco. My Dad and I dined at a Chinese restaurant there where I first had the dish. I thought to myself that it would make a great dish for the competition. Of course I put my own twist on it."
Despite damp conditions outside, things were heating up in the kitchen at Courtyard by Marriott as competitors pulled out all their culinary tricks hoping to impress the judges. The second competitor for the morning was Aleeah Rasheed.
Her dish, entitled "The Legend", paid homage to Jamaican track star Usain Bolt. Comprised of sweet and sour chicken, garlic mashed potatoes and vegetables, Rasheed seemed quite relaxed at her food prep station.
She said, "Going into the competition I kept telling myself I had to make sure I had all my ingredients laid out so I would not have to be running back and forth; which I did anyway. I am proud of my dish and I think I stand a good chance to win."
The next competitor was 11-year-old Julianna Almandoz from Tobago. Her dish was Tropical Chicken with pineapple salsa, mashed potatoes and a medley of vegetables. Her mother who stood on the sidelines along with the other parents expressed how much her daughter loves cooking and her favourite thing to make at home is chicken fingers.
This year's competition was spearheaded by executive chef of Courtyard by Marriott Raymond Joseph, who gave an overview of the competition. Joseph has over the years represented Trinidad and Tobago as part of the national culinary team at the Taste of the Caribbean regional competition held by the Caribbean Hoteliers Association. Last year Raymond had the privilege to work alongside Iron Chef Jose Garces at the Taste of Trinidad event.
He said, "Last month children in the 10 to 12 age group were invited to participate in a culinary video competition, through the creation of a video cooking demo. We had approximately 34 entrants and from that set we selected the top ten videos. The overall winner of the culinary video competition will receive an IPAD."
"The ten winners selected were invited to participate in a week of culinary training with me where they were taught safety and sanitation, your tools in the kitchen, culinary terms, knife techniques and types of cuts, preparing pasta and rice, cooking methods, preparing dough, preparing batters, chicken and fish, marinades and working with a mystery basket," he said.
The next competitor was Makayla Munroe, who had all eyes on her with her extensive dish entitled 50th Independence Supreme. Comprised of a pan-seared pineapple marinated chicken with stuffed roasted bell peppers and carrots; accompanied with creamy mashed potatoes, a pineapple and bell pepper cream sauce and a reduced chicken stock ginger infused sauce.
Munroe, who seemed quite comfortable in the fast-paced environment, went right up to the last minute and had her family on the edge of their seats.
Competitors for the 2012 Junior Chef Competition were as follows: Adnan Baksh, Aleeah Rasheed, Julianna Almandoz, Makayla Munroe, Zoya Grote, Chalen Yee, Kelcy Griffith, Josiah Clarke, Amira Cooper and Khadijah CHantelle Ollivierre.
Judging the competition were Isiah Connel the 2012 Caribbean Junior Chef of the Year, Michelle Young from the THRTA and Sabrina Rosales, member of the National Culinary team. The judges could give a maximum of five points on presentation/cooking methods/techniques. The next category is Portion Size and Nutritional Balance that can also be awarded a maximum of five points. Menu Accuracy five points, Creativity a maximum of 10 points, Taste 15, Texture 5 and Flavour Balance 10.
Executive chef Joseph said, "Overall I know these children have the passion to cook, I hope from this experience they would have gained more knowledge and have a better understanding of the culinary world. I hope they can take what they have learnt and be able to move on and follow their dreams."