BY DONNA PARKIN — The fifth season of the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort’s School Chefs Challenge saw 140 students from years 9-13 showcase their talents as aspiring chefs.
An initiative of Shailesh Naidu, executive chef and honorary president of the Fiji Chefs Association, the challenge aims to encourage Fijian high school children to have a better appreciation of food and to consider a vocation in the hospitality industry.
Chef Naidu said that he and his kitchen team had always wanted to start a community project that not only gave something back to the people of Fiji but also reflected on their profession and showcased an important element of the tourism industry.
Commencing in 2012 with participation from just one local school, Sigatoka Andhra College, the competition has grown to 15 competing schools including four from Nadi and two from Lautoka.
“I’m not expecting all students to become chefs, but cooking is a vital thing to learn no matter what life path they take. These days many students leave home to pursue further studies or attend universities abroad so it’s essential for them to have some basic cooking skills and to be able to take care of themselves,” he said.
The competition has not only grown in numbers but has also outgrown its original venue at a local school’s home economics room to Outrigger’s air-conditioned ballroom, complete with fully provisioned mobile kitchens wheeled in for the challenge.
It has also captured the attention of The Minister of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation Hon. Rosy Akbar who attended the official opening of the challenge and The Minister for Education Heritage and Arts Hon. Dr. Mahendra Reddy, who was chief guest at the awards presentation.
In his presentation speech, The Hon. Dr. Mahendra Reddy applauded the School Chefs Challenge and gave his support to further expand the event to other regions of Fiji.
The 140 students competed across five categories in individual and team events for Gold, Silver and Bronze awards. There were ‘Inspirational Awards’ of computers and tablets, Lucky Dip prizes of assorted vouchers, dinners and accommodation and the ‘Culinary School of the Year’ received kitchen supplies and appliances for its home economics room.
Chef Naidu said that with the current momentum behind the event, there was no doubt it would become a national contest in years to come.
“It is very rewarding to have the support of so many co-sponsors backing this event, and I hope that with some solid support from our tourism sector, we may be able to drive more of these types of events in the future. I am thankful to the executives of Outrigger Fiji for giving us this opportunity and thankful that the students are showing an interest in cooking, which is a very important life skill,” he said.
Special gratitude to School Chefs Challenge co-sponsors:
Chicken Dish – Crest Chicken
Seafood Dish – Danny’s Limited
Vegetarian Dish – Navosa Farm Fresh Produce
Cake Decoration – Bakels
Egg Dish – Ram Sami & Sons
Culinary School of the Year 2016 – Pacific OZ-trasia
Students Drink – Fiji Water
Chemical / Sanitation – Fiji Chemical
Cooking Appliances – Fiji Gas
Kitchen Workbenches – Fiji Chefs Association
Inspirational Prizes – Ms. Rita Narain – Sydney, Australia
Lucky Dip Prizes – the above sponsors + Yatule Resort & Spa, Tanoa International Hotel, Sigatoka River Safari, Kula Eco Park, Zip Line Excursion, Pure Fiji, Jack’s Fiji, Telecom Fiji Limited, Gibson Freight, Virtual Flex, Al Hamd Enterprise, Chef Billy and Chef Priya