Hannah Conroy from Cork Institute of Technology has been crowned winner of the Knorr® Professional Student Chef Competition 2023 following a nail-biting afternoon at the Dundalk Institute of Technology earlier this year.

The competition is widely respected within the hospitality sector for its reputation for showcasing the talents of our culinary students.

As well as the opportunity to represent their colleges, the competition provides second-year student chefs from around the country with a platform for career progression by demonstrating innovation and creativity.

For winner Hannah Conroy, it was for her “An amazing achievement to win the competition”.

Hannah continues: “My lecturer, Ciarán Scully, and I put in a lot of hard work and hours to prepare for the competition in the weeks leading up to it and to come home with gold really made all the hard work worth it.”

25th Anniversary

2023 was a particularly significant year for competition as it celebrates its 25th anniversary. Over that time, previous competitors have gone on to have very successful careers as well as writing recipe books and presenting cookery programmes for TV.

Each year, students are challenged to create and cook a menu of two dishes based on a different theme. This year’s theme was “Classic dishes with a modern make-over” and students were asked to rethink the traditional dishes that shaped our culinary journey and give them an innovative makeover more suited to today’s palate.

The dishes are judged on chefmanship, creativity, using locally sourced ingredients and presentation while consideration is also given to nutrition, health and sustainability.

World-class Talent

The competition really highlights the culinary talent that is coming through colleges and institutions around the country. It demonstrates the creativity and versatility of our student chefs and further reminds us that Ireland continues to produce some of the finest chefs in the world.

“As the theme for this year’s competition was “classic dishes with a modern makeover, I chose to a modern take on Duck a l’Orange as my main course and Delice De Cassis as my dessert,” says winner Hannah Conroy. “The main course consisted of pan-fried duck breast, topped with dehydrated smoked duck breast and blood orange zest, pithivier, duck liver pate, crispy duck skin, pickled carrot and orange, snowball turnip, kale, roast potatoes, parsnip purée.”

For dessert, Hannah created a dish “Consisting of blackcurrant jelly, sablé biscuit, white chocolate cremeux, meringue, ruby chocolate, matcha crumb”.

Local Produce at the Forefront

The basis of Hannah’s menu was her use of local ingredients, especially from local suppliers at farmers markets. “I have worked at farmers markets my whole life with my family business, Woodside Farm, so being able to include produce from the local farmers into the dish was very important to me,” says Hannah.

“Sustainability was also vital to me when creating the menu. The idea we had in mind was to use the entirety of the duck within the dish and create no waste, as it is typical that restaurants would mainly serve duck breasts and tend to forget about the most delicious parts of the duck.”

For the rest of the duck, Hannah got creative: “We used livers to create a duck liver pâte, the carcass to create the delicious sauce, the remaining meat from the wings and legs within the pithivier and including the duck skin as its own element in the dish.”

Chefs-in-training at Munster Technological University

Kieran Scully, Culinary Lecturer at Munster Technological University (MTU), has many fond memories and more experience than most at the Knorr® Professional Student Chef Competition. He’s been involved with the competition for over 20 years and he knew from the off that in Hannah they had “The perfect candidate”.
“Hannah had the skill set, the ability to listen to advice, adapt, and was most importantly prepared to put the hours of practice in which is fundamental to any success,” says Kieran.
The competition itself is a big event for everyone in the culinary school. Kieran says: “The Knorr as it fondly referred to is the highlight of culinary competitions, a time to meet up in friendly rivalry and banter going back over the previous winners, the trips and the laughs.”
Kieran fills us in with a lasting memory from a previous year, showing the impact this competition can have on young students.  “On a particular year we were competing there was a young student who was only in his first year of studies and representing Dundalk IT. Someway in to the competition things started to go horribly wrong, but he picked himself up and got on to complete his dishes knowing his chance had gone,” says Kieran.
“The following year the same student competed as a second year student and took the gold medal home with great pride. Now that young man is a member of the lecturing team in TUS Athlone who mentors students for The Knorr and has already taken the scalp of some very elder lemons.”

The Real Inspiration

While many often look to big names as influences, for Hannah her inspiration to become a chef started at home. “My mother was a chef in her early years and passed on all her skills and knowledge to me from a young age which stemmed into me always wanting a career as a chef,” says Hannah. “I’ve lived on a farm my whole life, so food was always surrounding my life. As soon as I could work in a kitchen, I was applying for a job and I’ve never desired to leave since.”

Hannah also couldn’t say enough good words about her Culinary Skills course at MTU. “MTU has one of the best facilities in Ireland to train as a chef and luckily it was on my doorstep,” enthuses Hannah. “I decided to study Culinary Studies as it is a fantastic course, including a lot of practical classes in the kitchens, giving students the best experience and the ability to run a restaurant kitchen. It also covers the business side of running a kitchen which is very important when working in the industry. The course is 2 years but also gives many opportunities such as studying further courses within the college and apprenticeships.”

Winning the competition may be a major milestone, but for Hannah it’s just the start. “My main goals would be to continue to work in amazing kitchens and collect as much knowledge as possible from fantastic chefs along the way,” says Hannah.

“The wonderful thing about our industry is how easy it is to travel around the globe and work amongst different chefs in different cuisines and that is something I’m certainly looking forward to doing. The possibility of opening up my own business in the coming years would also be a great ambition of mine.”

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