Above: The five finalists with Yamazato’s Master Chef Shigeru Hagiwara (the one with the black cap crouching in the middle), the judges, Okura Prestige Bangkok’s General Manager Edward E Snoeks (the one in suit), and Director of Marketing Communications Vipasiri Napawongdee (the beautiful Khun Lek, furthest left third row).
For those who want to be a chef, this is one great opportunity for real professional kitchen experience. Three weeks of extensive training at Yamazato restaurant, and a chance to win a whirlwind trip to Amsterdam, getting under the wings of none other than Chef Onno Kokmeijer – the master chef behind the two-starred Michelin Ceil Bleu.
But then, you will have to wait and be prepared for the next year. Keep your eyes and ears tuned for the news updates. For the Okura Prestige Bangkok says they will do it again. And again, if they can, as an attempt to bring forwards hopes and dreams and muscles of aspiring Thai chefs onto the world’s stage.
Above: The finalists each presenting their basic Japanese dishes and new creations for the panel night on 22 June 2018.
Last year the five-star urban hotel celebrated its 5th anniversary and set out to organize a national cooking competition in which they invited Thai students in culinary and hospitality programs throughout the country to contest in their cooking competition. This year, the hotel had me as one of their final panel judges, voting for the winner who would spend 9 nights in Amsterdam, all fees-paid-for, and enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime culinary experience.
Above: Me and Phi Bee+ (Khun Anantroj Thangsupanich), a regular judge at Thailand’s Iron Chef TV Show.
Here is how it worked. In February this year, applications submitted their applications along with a short cooking videos. The hotel’s committees (from the kitchens, the management and human resources) selected through the pile for just 11 students for the first round. After a series of face-to-face interviews, the hotel chose just 5 finalists to spend three weeks training with their Yamazato Master Chef Shigeru Hagiwara.
This year, five finalists came from Wandee Culinary Technological College (Ms. Suppalak Jangka, Mr. Teerapat Matthanu), Suan Dusit Unviersity (Ms. Pitsinee Tsang), Dusit Thani College (Mr. Wissarut Aroonsri) and Panyapiwat Institute of Management (Mr. Jaturawit Waiprib). Three weeks at Yamazato’s top notch kitchen exposed them to all Japanese food basics – from making sushi and sashimi to tempura, boiling and simmering stations. – which had them well prepared to make their own project – the showcase dishes for the final panel to judge upon.
Above: The finalists in the kitchen, some of their creations, and the panel judges at their table.
Each student’ ability to cook, their demeanors and personalities, their ability to communicate in English, their flair in cooking as well as their knowledge in food were among the criteria. But then, the tastes, textures and appearances of the food were the major factors each judge put into account when we tally up the scores.
For me, this proved to be both fantastic and difficult task. Should I weigh in more for the ones with obvious creativity? Say, the student who dared to combine Thai strong herbs into the Japanese ubiquitous dish like miso soup? Or should I lean more towards the one with soulful eyes, the ones more fluent in English because I think it is very important. Each student seemed to be energetic, eager to work in the kitchen, and all obviously can use the experience.
Above: Dinner made by Master Chef Shigeru Hagiwara. I had cold sweet sake with all these. Loved the fresh soy milk skin served with salmon roe and starchy soy sauce. Loved the grilled dish of ‘hair tail’ fish served with ginger broth. Loved the dessert: black sugar with milk mousse and green tea. Delicious.
We tried all their foods – sashimi, sushi, and California rolls. Some actually tasted better than one another, despite the looks being pretty similar. But the game changer was in their own creation. Creativity counts, of course, but then, there are cooking basics that all chefs – especially those who attended cooking school – should have them real solid like a second nature. So I voted for the piece of fish that was cooked perfectly, still juicy and naturally sweet. I just can not pass on the tender and moist flakes, shallot pickles that was perfect in tastes and in looks. I also loved the beautiful arrangement, harmonious and well-rounded taste combination.
So, congratulations to Mr. Wissarut Aroonsri from Dusit Thani College who won the grand prize. I hope more students will apply to this fantastic program next year because this is such a wonderful opportunity for those into the chef career. The one that carries no usual nepotism that I know of because the selection was based exclusively on the final tally accumulated by all judges, not just the final panel, but also from the last week’s judges which are people in food industry (mostly food journalists).
For more information, visit The Okura Prestige Bangkok.