Held at the Dundalk Institute of Technology earlier this year, the Knorr® Professional Student Chef Competition 2023 is the premier cooking competition for Ireland’s aspiring chefs-in-training.

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.

This year, Pat Kavas was a worthy runner-up this year with her dishes of a classic French bouillabaisse and a lemon meringue pie.

A classic French Dish and a Lemony Twist

The theme for this year’s competition was ‘Classic Dishes with a Modern Makeover’. Students were asked to rethink the traditional dishes that shaped their culinary journey, giving them an innovative makeover more suited to today’s palate. They also had to take into consideration food production areas, including nutrition, health, and sustainability.

Pat described her bouillabaisse as a “Rich fish stew with fennel, onions, saffron and orange cooked in flavourful fish broth. I replaced the traditional fish used in the stew with seabass, langoustines and scallops.”

The dish had a dual purpose for Pat – not only showcasing her exceptional flavour pairing abilities, but also her knife skills. The vibrant saffron added to the dish gave a visual pop.

As a second dish, Pat went about reworking a lemon meringue pie. “It’s one of my favourite desserts, however I really don’t enjoy the overpowering sweetness of meringue and curd,” explains Pat. “I developed a dessert that balances the nuttiness of sable and the sourness of the curd with the sweetness of meringue.

“I used the same ingredient (meringue) but created different textures (piped and torched as well as dried meringue) to elevate the dessert while not creating more work. I focused on details, such as poppy seeds in meringue, little dollops of blackberry between curd, and the velvety texture of the sponge. I could not have been happier with the dessert even if the picture was taken once the ice cream melted!”

Pat spent considerable time on her recipes, and the dessert in particular. “I made at least 5 different recipes of the sponge and just as much of the sable before I found one sponge/sable that was just right.”

On the day of the competition, Pat didn’t let her nerves get to her – in fact, she felt quite calm coming into it. “It was harder and more nerve wrecking the wait before the cooking started then the actual cooking itself,” explains Pat.

The whole experience was a unique one for her. “I really enjoyed the competition, the atmosphere in the kitchen felt electric, and full of excitement. It was really one of a kind experience.”

Despite growing up around food (“my mother cooked every meal three times a day, every day. She made noodles from scratch, baked breads and pastries, made jams and pickled, all the food in our home was harvested on our farm”) Pat never thought she would be a chef – baking was her first love.

From Baker to Chef

“I started this course with the idea of me baking and getting my work placement in France, making croissants and breads and just living the dream,” says Pat. “Somewhere along the way I started enjoying cooking, I love the balance of it; cooking by taste rather than blindly following recipes, and it took me back to being a child in our big kitchen next to my mother and it all made sense. So now I want to be more like her, using every part of my ingredient, be aware of wasting food, be conscious of where it comes from.”

Tragically, Pat’s mother, her inspiration to become a baker and then a chef, passed away in November. “I lost the desire to do the course, to be a chef, the spark was gone,” says Patricia. “I knew she wouldn’t let me just quit, so I tried my best to get back into it, and when the talk about the competition started I said yes and it was exactly the kick start that I needed.”

Looking ahead, while Pat doesn’t have a set plan, she certainly has ambition. “I will probably work in many kitchens before I open my own little place, and I can only hope that other places will be as welcoming and inclusive as Clermont in Blackrock where I currently work under Ronan Lawless.

“I would like to try out many types of operations and gain experience from them. I am planning to spend some time in a butchery. I can’t say I want to work in a very specific restaurant/kitchen, but I do know I want to work somewhere where people are treated fairly.”

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