Taylor's University student named Nestle Professional Culinary Arts Award champion

Ashwin Nicholas Oon is the fourth Taylor's student to be crowned as winner of this annual event

Taylor’s University School of Hospitality, Tourism & Culinary Arts (TCHT) swept up the major awards at the recent Nestle Professional Culinary Arts competition, with student Ashwin Nicholas Oon named as Champion while TCHT lecturer, Chef Farouk Othman, took home the “Coach of the Year” award for the fourth consecutive time.

Nicholas, who’s currently in the second semester of the Advanced Diploma in Gastronomy and Patisserie, beat 12 other culinary arts students to take home the coveted title. The 21-year old joins the rank of three other TCHT students, all of whom were coached by Chef Farouk; Foo Ee Lynn who won in 2011, Chen Kim Leun who won in 2012 and Barscpain Nea who won in 2013; as the winner of this annual competition.

He admits to feeling the nerves of the first day as the competition took place at Taylor’s but felt more confident as the competition progressed.

“This is actually my second professional competition but having to go through a competition in this format - three days with their respective daily schedule, was a first for me.

“After getting through the first day, it was smooth sailing and everything went according to plan. All in all, I was satisfied by my performance and thankful by the support given by my lecturers and friends.

“If I make the selection process (in May), I look forward to competing in Vietnam,” he said.

During the first day, Nicholas managed to serve up a slow-roasted eye fillet with braised lamb shank, polenta cake, glazed carrots, asparagus and morel sauce as his main. For dessert, which revolved around apples, he presented an inverted apple and chocolate charlotte with cream anglaise, red apple jelly and chocolate soil with poached fruits and caramelised pistachio.

Chef Farouk, who coached Nicholas for two months before the competition, shared that Nicholas was selected to participate in this competition as he has a positive attitude and is willing to improve his technique.

“Throughout the coaching period, we had one underlying thought, which was we are not cooking for ourselves. We had the expectation of the judges in mind and constantly refined the dishes and worked towards achieving the 'WOW' factor in everything we tried out,” he said.

Nicholas shared that the training process took a lot of time and patience as it required research to be followed by implementation of skills.

“It was a great opportunity to be able to participate and train as it definitely improved my skills as an individual. Every week I had to balance my time between classes, exams and practice and it definitely taught me the importance of time management,” shared Nicholas.

On the second day, Nicholas presented the judges with grilled tuna with spicy Nestum crust, smoked salmon souffle, spinach florentine, brioche, celeriac remoulade and pickle fennel as his appetizer. He also served up a modern interpretation of the Chicken Chasseur, a French traditional recipe of braised chicken with mushrooms and shallots. His dishes impressed the judges, warranting him a place in the finals the following day.

His winning dishes on the third and last day were a spiced oxtail soup, sole and scallops in brioche and a reversed chocolate charlotte with a panna cotta ring and a deconstructed creme brulee.

Chef Farouk adds that they wanted the judges to have a sublime experience tasting the dishes and this drove them to pick the dishes they did on the last day.

“We had the belief that he who innovates and continuously improves, shall never become yesterday’s success and this was the motivating factor, especially on the last day,” said Chef Farouk.

Both men expressed joy about the end result, with Chef Farouk sharing that the secret to his record of winning “Coach of the Year” for the fourth consecutive time was that his students had a deep-seated longing to excel and become champions.

“They (the champions) are the rising stars,” he shared.