Former culinary students of the Australia-Pacific Technical College (APTC) in Fiji held their own against industry heavyweights at the most recent Moffat National Salon Culinaire in Nadi last year, scooping a record 33 medals.
The Fiji section of the respected international culinary competition, which has been running for 30 years, gave budding chefs a chance to compete alongside trained cooks and chefs with more experience. Twenty-six APTC student chefs, trained in commercial cookery or patisserie, competed in the contest last year, which helped develop their confidence and skills.
Razia Begum, who graduated from APTC in 2012 and is currently a chef at the Sofitel Resort on Denarau Island, won three gold medals and the Fiji Pastry Chef of the Year title. Although she graduated in April 2013, Razia has continued to receive mentoring from APTC’s patisserie trainer and international master chef patissier, Amanda Young.
“I’ve judged in competitions around the world and Razia is among the best,” said Young. “Her standard of work and accuracy and attention to detail is remarkable.”
Amongst Razia’s winning entries was a lemon meringue tart with lemon curd in the live dessert category (which was prepared in front of an audience), to which she added freshly shredded coconut to lower the dessert’s sugar content and introduce a new texture.
Henry Chong Sue, who trained in commercial cookery, entered the Chef of the Year category for the first time and won a bronze medal in the ‘mystery box’ subcategory, which required contestants to make a live, three-course meal for four people within three hours from a selection of mystery ingredients.
From a box containing fish, chicken and a selection of fresh fruit and vegetables, Henry prepared a steamed fish salad with garlic vinaigrette, chicken stuffed with roasted eggplant, kumala (sweet potato) mash and coconut cream sauce, and a tropical fruit tarte.
“I had entered other categories in previous years but the Chef of the Year category was a big challenge for me this year, with a lot more pressure,” he said. “Participating in the contest had definitely helped me move to a higher level of cooking and it had encouraged me to use my mind in a creative way.”
Tamal Sau Makun from Papua New Guinea won a bronze medal in the static cold main course category for her Bismarck Salad, which contained grilled marlin, carrot, capsicum and zucchini with an English mustard and lemon juice dressing. “The contest was a chance to acquire more knowledge and upgrade my skills,” she said.
For students participating, the world-level event gave them a better understanding of workforce demands such as time management, planning and preparation. “The contest is also a great platform for students to showcase their skills and to get a good job,” said culinary trainer Douglas Battison.
Through its training courses, APTC, along with other tertiary institutions such as the Fiji National University and the University of the South Pacific, is helping raise the culinary standards of the hospitality industry in Fiji and the Pacific region in critical areas such as good food hygiene.
With tourism important not only in Fiji but throughout the Pacific, APTC is making a positive contribution to the economic wellbeing of its host countries. Funded by the Australian Government, the college has campuses and teaching centres in 14 Pacific countries.