Aspiring dim sum chefs faced off at a culinary battle last Thursday for the opportunity to master their skills as apprentices under world-class chefs at The Peninsula Hotels.
The semi-finals of the Dim Sum Young Talent Competition 2014 - co-organised by The Peninsula (Hong Kong) and held at Towngas Cooking Centre in Causeway Bay - featured 10 contestants aged 17 to 24 from Hong Kong and the mainland.
Before the entrants donned their aprons and heated their woks, they learned some new techniques for a mango mochi roll from Towngas Cooking Centre's teacher Lily Chan.
They also got some inspiration from Henry Fong, who is in charge of the dim sum department at Spring Moon, The Peninsula hotel's Cantonese restaurant. He showed them how to make wafer-thin, moist dumpling skin, and creatively styled shrimp dumplings and spring rolls.
Armed with these trade secrets, the contestants entered the kitchen to prepare one steamed and one deep-fried dish for the four judges.
Holy Trinity College student Tse Hin-wing, 19, re-entered the contest with greater confidence after a sprained wrist forced her to withdraw from last year's challenge. This time she parcelled her shrimp dumplings like flowers to impress the judges, and paired her spring rolls with a special dressing made with vinegar, soy sauce and chilli.
"I dream of studying hotel management at university and opening a cooking school," Hin-wing says. "I'm grateful that I've been given a second chance."
Yuan Yang, 17, who goes to Guangzhou Vocational School of Training and Business, made the same dishes, but completed them in about an hour - half the given time. But according to Frankie Tang, one of the judges and head chef at Spring Moon, her choices were "too safe and fell short of creativity".
Chinese Cuisine Training Institute student Fung Wing-hong, 20, prepared a leaf-shaped dumpling and vegetarian roll for the contest. He's used to measuring with Chinese units such as catty, but the equipment here meant he had to convert all the quantities to grams. Still, he managed to pull it off.
The mushroom spring rolls and shrimp dumplings made by Zhen Jiamin, 17, whose father is a professional dim sum chef, wowed the panel. Chef Tang loved the thinness of her dim sum skins and was impressed that she achieved such high standards under pressure.
Judge Florian Trento, executive chef for the Peninsula Hotels Group, looked for creativity, skill, and commitment during the judging process. He reminded the contestants that it's important to taste the food they serve and keep the kitchen clean and tidy. "What happens behind the scenes is very important, too," he says.
He added that this year's contestants boasted a higher level of skill than last year's. "More thought was given to the dishes, from the seasoning to the presentation."
We'll find out who made it into the final five, when the judges announce their results on August 1.