Milton Keynes College students wow judges to win Asian cooking contest

Team of students from MK College beat top-class competition from across the UK to win an extremely prestigious cooking contest, Zest Quest Asia.
Team of students from MK College beat top-class competition from across the UK to win an extremely prestigious cooking contest, Zest Quest Asia.
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Three catering students from Milton Keynes College earned the prize of a lifetime when they beat off strong competition to claim the prestigious Zest Quest Asia 2016 crown.

After a day of hard graft in the kitchen at renowned chef Cyrus Todiwala’s restaurant, located at the Hilton London Heathrow Terminal 5, the team from MK College were named winners at a gala dinner.

The trio of Jessica Hopcraft, Crystall Flemming and Jake Stokes impressed the judges during the day’s cook-off, demonstrating their top-class techniques by serving four delicious courses based around an Asian theme.

As a result of their victory – which saw the team from MK overcoming strong competition from well-known establishments such as Westminster Kingsway College, University College Birmingham and reigning champions Farnborough College – the winning team will be rewarded with a culinary experience in Bangkok, Thailand.

The cook-off and gala dinner is designed to highlight the wealth of career opportunities in Asian cuisine for learners from all backgrounds and represents the culmination of months of preparation from the College’s catering team and their commercial restaurant, The Brasserie.

Alongside the demonstration of their technical skills, the learners were required to make a presentation to the panel of judges, explaining the rationale behind their menu, including cultural influences, the importance of sustainability and the support received from their inspirational mentor, professional chef Steve Walpole, who provided guidance throughout the process.

Claiming the prize in such a prestigious competition and among such a strong field represents a major result, something that Maria Bowness, Head of School for Hair, Beauty, Hospitality and Events at the College, was keen to impress. She said: “This is a huge victory for the students and for the whole of the Catering and Hospitality team.

“Going into the event, the team were delighted just to be in among some of the most prestigious establishments in the country, so to overcome the odds and win shows the dedication, passion and overall abilities of the learners and their expert tutors.

“The students have devoted themselves to this competition in recent weeks, developing their knowledge of Asian cuisine to levels they never thought possible and demonstrating the diverse skills taught through our study programmes.

“Victory in such an industry-renowned contest like this shows that MK College is truly among the best providers nationally and is continuing to go from strength to strength.”

One of the competing students, Crystall, was delighted to be on the winning team and felt that it was a well-earned victory, although still a major surprise.

She said: “Never in a million years did I think we could have achieved something this big – it was one of the best experiences of my life.

“It doesn’t matter what hiccups you have along the way, if you put in the hard work and have the dedication, anything is possible.”

Team-mate Jessica echoed Crystall’s thoughts, commenting: “I’m so happy that Milton Keynes College has won Zest Quest 2016.

“You meet amazing people and we’re going to Bangkok as our prize – it’s the opportunity of a lifetime and a fantastic experience. I’m so excited and happy!”

Having won the competition, the students can now look forward to their Asian culinary experience, which last year saw the winning team visit Colombo in Sri Lanka.