After a two-hour cook-off, student George Lowen from Technological University (TU) Dublin, Tallaght was recently crowned winner of the Knorr® Professional Student Chef of the Year 2022.

The young chef won out after stiff competition from nine other chefs. “Winning the competition means a lot to me, it definitely gives me a lot more confidence now when it comes to cooking food and also makes me want to compete in more competitions in the future, the whole experience has been really exciting and rewarding,” said George.

The theme for this year’s competition was “Cook Local, Act Global” which was inspired by the unrivalled quality ingredients right on our doorsteps, and sustainable cooking. Students had to prepare a creative and distinctive menu of two dishes of their choosing that use locally sourced ingredients.

On the day, George cooked up a starter, followed by a main. For his starter, George prepared Homemade Labneh, Pickled Butternut Squash & Fennel, Gorse Syrup, Mint Oil, Zaatar Whey Cracker; and a main of Seared Scallops, Tarragon Butter, Nori Leeks, Celeriac Puree, Pickled Apple gremolata, Roasted Hazelnuts.

“Coming up with my dishes was probably the hardest part,” said George. “I must give a big thank you to my lecturers especially Denise Murray for their support and advice without which I wouldn’t be here today. I had to think a lot to make sure I met the brief of cooking local, acting global.”

“For my starter I was inspired by how chefs in their final year of BA(Hons) in Botanical Cuisine were interpreting ingredients and I thought it would be the perfect approach for the starter.

“When it came to my main course, I wanted to use scallops as they are sustainable, so I decided I would put vegetables that were in season into it and also, I wanted to use seaweed as it was one of Knorr’s 50 future foods.”

The winning dishes were the culmination of months of practice by George, to ensure he nailed the recipes when he needed to most. “Preparation was hard; I practiced my dishes over and over again in the weeks coming up to the competition, but I wanted to make sure I could do my dishes with my eyes closed.

“I spent a long time developing the flavour to make sure I got the balance right in the dishes.”

Part of winning the competition is also the final presentation of the dishes, something George also poured himself over. “Presentation was also key, not only how the food looked on the plate but also the plate itself, even making the decision around the plates took time. I eventually decided to use hand-made plates from a potter in Stepaside.”

George focused on seasonal, locally sourced vegetables for his dishes. “All my vegetables came from McNally’s farm in Dublin and cress from little cress microgreens. The locally foraged gorse flowers and gorse syrup from Wild Irish foragers added a wild food aspect.”

This local focus held on through the other ingredients. “I used a yoghurt to make my labneh and we got that from old MacDonnell’s farm in Wicklow. The oil we used for the mint oil and for cooking the scallops was Wicklow rapeseed oil. Another unique ingredient was the Bia Sol Brew flour, which is made from spent grain, I used this to make the cracker for the starter.”

As well as Gordon Ramsay, George is also a huge admirer of JP McMahon, who was one of the chefs on the day of the competition.

For now though, George is focusing on his final year in college before deciding on his next steps. “My plan is when I finish college is to travel, I want to work in other food cultures and develop other cooking experiences. I have always wanted to travel the world from a young age, I will probably start in Canada but haven’t decided yet; first I will be focusing on getting my final year in college behind me. Trying out all the different food cultures and working with different chefs really appeals to me.”

For more information on the annual competition, go to http://ufs.com/studentchef.

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