IN SEARCH OF THE NEXT BIG CHEF : UCSI turns up the heat through cooking competition

KUCHING: Budding chefs cooking a three-course meal using mystery ingredients – all within 1 hour 45 minutes. While this may sound like a reality cooking show, it was actually an event held in Kuching, Malaysia. 

The Next Big Chef (NBC) cooking competition was organised by UCSI University’s Faculty of Hospitality and Tourism Management (FHTM) in collaboration with the Malaysian Pepper Board (MPB) and Nestlé Products Sdn Bhd (Nestlé). 

Open to secondary school students, the competition was preceded by the preliminary round – the Next Big Chef School Series’ – held during the months of May and August last year. About 80 secondary school students participated and six teams made the cut to the final round. The groups were from SMK St Teresa, SMK St Mary, SMK St Thomas, SMK DPHA Gapor, SMK Sungai Tapang and SMK Batu Kawa. 

On 12 and 13 December, the six teams went head on during the NBC competition held at CityOne Megamall, Kuching. 

Similar to MasterChef, the NBC featured the 'black box' concept where participants were required to use the mystery ingredients provided by Nestlé in their dishes. These included pepper-based products. 

The focus on pepper is in line with UCSI being selected by the MPB to promote the Malaysian spice locally and internationally. UCSI is the first university to be given this honour by the MPB, which oversees the trade of pepper in the country. 

The esteemed panel of judges consisted of Jasbir Kaur, the MasterChef Asia finalist as well as Executive Chefs, Azahari Aziz from Riverside Majestic Hotel and Thomas Schmid from the Borneo Convention Centre Kuching (BCCK). 

The dishes were evaluated based on flavour and presentation.
Champions of the competition were May Ivanna and Valerie Michelle from SMK DPHA Gapor. They won a RM20,000 UCSI bursary and RM1,000 cash. 

Coming a close second were Gloria Cumai Romano Romie and Hafiza Nurisha Abdullah from SMK St Mary. The budding chefs brought home a RM10,000 UCSI bursary as well as RM500 cash. 

Jordan Ajeng and Ahmad Rifqi Mohd Jerome Rinjes from SMK St Thomas were placed third, bagging a RM5,000 UCSI bursary and RM300 cash prize. 

The competition aims to continuously raise the standards of culinary excellence in Malaysia. 

According to Christopher Wan Sageng, Head of the Culinary Arts Department from UCSI’s Kuching campus, UCSI takes its role as the leading Hospitality and Tourism institute in Sarawak seriously, and uses its position to help budding chefs further their careers. 

“We started NBC two years ago and we organise it annually. The response has always been fantastic and we want to channel this interest in cooking to professional careers by offering bursaries as prizes,” he said. 

The two-day event also included other exciting competitions namely the ‘Junior Next Big Chef’ for children aged below 12 and the ‘Eat All You Can’ buffet, both opened to the public. 

Other exciting activities included the showcase of local products by the SME companies under MPB, cooking demonstration by UCSI’s culinary arts lecturers and food tasting. 

Present at the event were also Dato’ Grunsim Ayom, Director General of the Malaysian Pepper Board; Mukvinder Sandhu, Chief Operating Officer of UCSI’s Kuching campus; Jenny George, Senior Director of the Malaysian Pepper Board; Darryl Wee Ho Nyan, Regional Sales Manager of Nestlé Products Sdn Bhd and Ir. Stephen Long, the Managing Director of Kenbest Sdn Bhd.

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