A champion - puree and simple

A champion - puree and simple

Vanessa Tsui Wing-yin overcomes culinary confusion to cook up a storm

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(From left) Runner-up Karina Yuen, champion Vanessa Tsui, Young Post Editor Susan Ramsay
(From left) Runner-up Karina Yuen, champion Vanessa Tsui, Young Post Editor Susan Ramsay
Photos: David Wong/SCMP
Budding chef Vanessa Tsui Wing-yin didn't think she had a chance. She wasn't confident she knew how to use the oven. And the puree for her dish didn't seem right.

Yet she managed to cook up a storm to defeat five other contestants and become the winner of the Towngas Young Master Chef competition on Wednesday.

Vanessa, 16, who is a student at St Paul's Convent School, in Causeway Bay, was assigned two lamb racks as her core ingredient and decided to turn them into a French-inspired dish.

She created a dish she called The Greenery, by marinating the lamb in black pepper and garlic, topped with a broccoli puree and breadcrumbs.

"I'm exhilarated," Vanessa said. "I didn't think I would even make it to the semi-final."

She did everything she could to prepare for this competition; she has been making every meal at home lately, and stayed up late to read cookbooks every night.

However, Vanessa said she was still quite nervous during the cook-off as not everything went according to plan: she had planned to use yogurt in her dish, but she couldn't find it on the bench, so she had to improvise and create the puree instead. She used the puree as a sauce, which didn't seem right to her. She was also not confident about how to use the oven.

Yet her cooking skills impressed some of the judges, including star chef Wilson Kwok.

He said Vanessa had perfectly created a classic French dish, and had done a great job of choosing the side ingredients.

Vanessa will attend cooking classes at Le Cordon Bleu, in Paris, later this year. "I really want to go now," she said. "I want to learn more about French cuisine."

Karina Yuen Ka-hei, 17, finished second with her dish La Grand Reve - baked salmon under a herb crust served with mashed potatoes and mashed carrots. She won a cooking trip to Beijing.

"It'll be a good chance for me to polish my Chinese cooking skills," Karina said of her trip. "I can learn how to become a more well-rounded chef." Karina is more used to cooking Western cuisine.

Third were the team of Trista Tang Yuk-ching, 16, and Florence Tse Hin-wing, 17, with their Tomato Chests: tomatoes stuffed with minced pork and mashed potato rissoles.


Ultimate "Black Box" Challenge


Finalists Natalie Wong (left) and Agnes Chan try to beat the clock.

Six finalists - two duos and four solo contestants - faced the ultimate "black box" challenge in this last round of the competition.

There were six core ingredients available: pork, salmon, scallops, chicken, lamb and rib-eye steak. The contestants were randomly assigned these core protein ingredients.

Once they knew what their ingredient would be, the contestants had two minutes to decide how they would cook their dishes. At the end of this thinking time came the selection of the ingredients. Each entrant was given three minutes to pick the seasonings and secondary ingredients they needed. However, the contestants would have to think things through carefully, as marks would be deducted if they took more ingredients than they actually used in their dishes.

Once the cook-off began, the contestants had one hour to create the most mouth-watering dish possible. Then came the presentation of the dishes and the judging.


Variables and unknowns


The other finalists: (from left) Agnes Chan Ka-hei, Natalie Wong Wing-yin, Helen Lo Kit-yi and Kelvin Wang Chi-lung.

Most of the contestants found the "black box" challenge difficult. "I was a bit nervous because I didn't know what I'd get," Karina said after the competition.

She was relieved to find out she had been given salmon, an ingredient she was familiar with. But for some, it was a nightmare when they opened their black boxes.

Kelvin Wan Chi-lung, the only male contestant left, received scallops - an unfamiliar food to most of the contestants. The moment the scallops appeared, everyone in the room, but Kelvin, let out a sigh of relief. He realised he'd have to create a dish from something he had never used before. "It was the first time I ever cooked scallops," he said.

Third-place finishers Trista and Florence were also surprised when they opened their box.

"We didn't expect to get pork," Trista said. She said their minds went blank for a few moments before they became calm again and created their Tomato Chests.

The unpredictable nature of the black box challenge also put contestants' preparation skills and time management to the test. Since the contestants had only three minutes to pick their side ingredients, they had to come up with the dish as soon as they found out their core protein ingredients. "The choosing part was really hard," Kelvin said. "There were so many choices."

Almost all the contestants struggled to meet the time limit, especially Natalie Wong Wing-yin and Agnes Chan Ka-hei. The duo won praise from judges for their semi-final dish last week, but missed the deadline this time by several minutes.


Complete recap of the other rounds of cooking:
Round One
Round Two
Round Three
Round Four
Round Five
Round Six
Semi-final

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