India is all set to host the fifth edition of the International Young Chef Olympiad (YCO). Recognised as the world’s biggest culinary competition for student chefs, the event will be held across four cities—Delhi, Pune, Bengaluru and Kolkata, from 28 January to 2 February.

This year we will witness the participation of promising young chefs from 50 countries, including England, Canada, Russia, Spain, the UAE, Thailand, France, Italy and Hong Kong among others. The event is being organised by the International Institute of Hotel Management (IIHM), in partnership with the International Hospitality Council (IHC) London.

The YCO was launched in 2015 with an aim to build an international platform, where young chefs from around the world could showcase their culinary talent. The vision was also to “create goodwill among nations by connecting them through the world’s most preferred language—food”.

Dr Suborno Bose, Chairman and Founder of YCO 2019 Committee and Chief Mentor of IIHM, spoke  to us about the journey of this international competition over the last five years. He said, “It is heartening to see the tremendous response that the event has received from the hospitality and culinary industries globally, with the number of countries participating in YCO growing from 15 in the inaugural edition to 50 in 2019.”

He added, “YCO is emerging as an annual global convention for the culinary stars of tomorrow, where they get to observe and learn diverse food preparation techniques and cultures of various parts of the world. This is an unparallel opportunity for the participants, who are just beginning their career in this dynamic industry.” The organisers’ aim is to have over 100 countries participate in YCO by 2022 and going by the growth they have seen in just half a decade, they remain certain of achieving this goal.

The five-day competition of YCO 2019 will witness contestants undertaking three rounds of culinary challenges. The winner will receive the coveted YCO trophy, a cash prize of $10,000 and a endorsement by globally renowned experts from the food and hospitality industry. 

After the opening ceremony of YCO 2019 in Delhi, the competition rounds will start from the next day itself. The first two rounds will be held in Delhi, Pune and Bengaluru, and the top 10 contestants will compete in the grand finale which will take place in Kolkata on 2 February. On that day, contestants holding positions 11 to 20 will compete for the Plate Trophy, which has been introduced this year. At the closing ceremony, the Olympiad Champion, runners-up and other awardees will be announced.

Padma Shri Chef Sanjeev Kapoor has been roped in as the Principal Judge for YCO 2019. David Foskett, the author of Practical Cookery and Theory of Catering, and an Emeritus Professor at the London School of Hospitality and Tourism, will be the Chairperson of the Jury. The panel of judges this year include internationally acclaimed chefs such as John Wood, Ranveer Brar, Andreas Muller, Enzo Oliveri, Ron Scott, Abhijit Saha, Andy Varma, Enrico Bricarello, Parvinder Singh Bali and David Graham among many others.

The evaluation criteria for the “cheftestants” go beyond the scores on their culinary skills; their ability to efficiently manage a food production area will also be considered. The judges will pay attention to factors like health and safety, good hygiene practice, ability to follow a recipe and creativity etc.

Chef Parvinder Singh Bali, Corporate Chef, Learning & Development, The Oberoi Centre of Learning & Development, spoke about his focus areas as a judge at the Olympiad. He said, “I will be paying special attention to their hygiene and knowledge about food safety. I will also be observing if the contestants are using the correct tools for correct jobs and the right cooking technique and processes”

He also gave some pointers to the competitors: “There will be only one winner, but this experience is for everyone and one must make the most of it. Focus on taste, colour, textures and flavours. One must also remember that the judges are very particular about food hygiene, correct methods of cooking and zero wastage. Lastly, follow the KISS principle: keep it simple and straight forward.”

At YCO 2019, the participants will be competing for a total of 18 awards, including The Rising Star Award, Best Vegetarian Dish, Best Dessert Dish, Best Hygiene Practice and Mentor’s Nomination Award. 

In the competition’s first round, the contestants will be required to prepare four portions of a Classical Chicken Saute Chasseur (served with a fondant potato), and eight Classical Rum Baba in two hours. In the second round, they will have to prepare a vegetarian dish and a King Prawn dish in two hours, suitable for a lunch menu at a bistro or brasserie restaurant. They will have to choose from a limited range of available ingredients. The finalists will be given two-and-a-half hours to prepare four portions of a salmon dish with a contemporary garnish, and an innovative potato dish to complement it using only the basket of ingredients provided. They will also have to prepare four portions of a new innovative dessert of their choice.

About his three-year association with the competition, Italian celebrity chef and YCO 2019 judge Chef Enzo Oliveri said, “I have seen this event growing a great deal. There are a lot more countries, more determined young chefs and more talented mentors. I see the best of the best young chefs of the world competing to win.”

Madhumitha K.P., a third year student at IIHM Bangalore, will represent India at the competition. About this opportunity, she said, “Representing my country at the world’s biggest culinary extravaganza is an honour for me. I am excited about competing with peers from over 50 countries, each of whom would be putting his or her best foot forward. For me, cooking is an art and as an artist I endeavour to add just the right palette of colour, flavour and mood. I am geared up to give my best at YCO 2019 and am currently focusing on sharpening my culinary skills to set the bar high at the Olympiad.”