A young chef from Brentwood in Essex is celebrating after winning the coveted title of Wing Yip Oriental Cookery Young Chef of the Year 2014.
Robert Hall who works at the House of Commons battled it out in a Masterchef-style cook-off at University College Birmingham and took home first place at an official awards dinner later that evening.
As well as the honour of being crowned the Wing Yip Oriental Cookery Young Chef of the Year 2014, Robert has also won a once in a lifetime trip to Hong Kong where he will gain an insight into the hospitality industry at world ranking Michelin starred restaurants and explore the region’s cultural highlights. He will also have firsthand experience of the vibrant street food scene where he will be able to take inspiration from the vast flavours and variety of fresh ingredients.
The national competition, now in its second year, offers aspiring young chefs and catering students between the ages of 18-25, the chance to boost their culinary careers.
Judging the competition were celebrity TV chef Ching He Huang, Michelin-starred Birmingham chef Glynn Purnell, and President of the British Culinary Federation, Peter Griffiths MBE.
At just 24 years old and a first-time entrant, it was an unexpected win for Robert who said he had never before cooked Oriental food and therefore felt overwhelmed when he was announced as the winner.
He cooked his way to the final with two Thai and Japanese inspired dishes which included a starter of tenderised skirt steak with pistachio puree, pickled mushrooms, cauliflower and radish. He finished his winning menu with a main of tom yam turbot with ramen broth and crab bon bon.
As a chef used to catering for high profile dignitaries at the House of Commons including the Prime Minister and MPs, Robert was able to handle the pressure of the competition and worked with a quiet confidence.
When asked what inspired him to enter, Robert said: “The House of Commons continues to support talent from within and part of this involves encouraging and driving young chefs to enter competitions and compete on a national scale. This was the first competition I have ever entered, I am overwhelmed to have won and I’m thoroughly looking forward to the trip to Hong Kong.”
Robert faced tough competition from 15 other finalists from trade establishments and colleges from across the UK including Bourneville College, Eton, University College Birmingham, Crown Moran Hotel in Cricklewood and the Elior catering group.
Contestants were required to prepare and cook two dishes, a starter and a main, in 105 minutes. Each of the contestants were judged on their working methods, culinary skills and professional techniques, as well as quality and balance of flavours and textures, presentation and authenticity and originality of dishes.
Chairman of the judges and President of the British Culinary Federation, Peter Griffiths said: “Now in its second year, this competition has attracted a great deal of promising professionals from across the UK. We were highly impressed by the diversity of the menus and the chefs’ choice of Oriental ingredients.
“Robert’s dishes demonstrated a clever use of modern cooking techniques combined with traditional Asian flair. The Thai/Japanese fusion in the main dish was brave and demonstrated a confident use of flavours. Robert showed an excellent work ethic and process in the kitchen and his final dishes were spot on!”
Princia Fernandes from University College Birmingham was placed second with her menu of bang-bang Monkfish and aromatic duck, with Joshua Anderson from the Amadeus catering group part of the NEC and ICC, came third with his innovative vegetable garden and steamed halibut.
Winners and finalists were celebrated and awarded at an exclusive dinner hosted by Wing Yip at University College Birmingham. Compèred by Mark Gough from ITV Central, local guests including media were also invited to the event to see Robert walk away with the coveted title.
Mr Wing Yip, the Chairman of Wing Yip, added: “For the second year running I have been extremely impressed by the level of culinary expertise demonstrated by the chefs.
“This competition really is a celebration of both quality Oriental cuisine and the creative flair and talent we have coming through in the UK. These are the chefs to watch out for in the future.”
Wing Yip is the UK’s leading Oriental grocer, with four superstores in Birmingham, Manchester, Cricklewood and Croydon. A visit to one of the stores is like taking a trip around the world, with over 4,500 pan-Asian products.