A Student Chef on Competing in One of the World’s Top Culinary Competitions

· @hkonyango ·

Catherine Wanjiku Waruingi has always been passionate about cooking. So when it came time to choose what to study, food production was the obvious choice. “Cooking is an art to me, a tactile way to express myself. When you cook with love, it brings joy and happiness,” she says.

Now a second year student at Kenya Utalii College, Waruingi’s love for the culinary arts has already taken her to one of the biggest international competitions: the Young Chef Olympiad (YCO).

In January, Waruingi traveled to India to represent her school and Kenya at the competition, where she battled it out with 67 other participants to come in fourth place. She further received the top distinction for creating a delectable Floating Islands, which earned her the coveted award for best dessert.

AkilahNet caught up with Waruingi to learn more about her experience competing at the the Young Chef Olympiad and what it takes to excel in food production.

What motivated you to participate in the Young Chef Olympiad, and how was the preparation process for the competition?

I believe competitions play a vital role in culinary arts, as they continually raise the standards of culinary excellence. I learned of the Young Chef Olympiad competition after enrolling at Kenya Utalii College. A lot of hard work was required for the single person chosen to represent the school and the country, and I gave my best during my entire training. I was blessed to be chosen as the single finalist.

The preparation process was quite grilling and mind draining for me, as perfection was required. The process took a whole month to make the menus and perfect them during the holidays. I was really blessed to have the full support of Kenya Utalii College, which provided all the resources I needed. Moreover, I wouldn’t have gone the extra mile without the support of Chef Elolia Kitum, who really guided me through the entire process.

You won the award for best dessert, Floating Islands, and prepared the main dish of stuffed chicken with paprika sauce, gallet potatoes, and green vegetables, which won you fourth place in the competition. What inspired you to prepare these two dishes?

The main course and accompaniment were created based on the ingredient list that had been sent to every participant one month prior to the competition. My chef and I had already decided from the list of menus we had worked on that stuffed chicken served with paprika sauce and accompanied by gallet potatoes and fresh green vegetables would be the best.

For the dessert, it was stipulated that the 11 competitors who were shortlisted from the original 51 participants would prepare Floating Islands for the finals. I put my soul and heart into preparing it, and I was glad it shone in the judges’ eyes and palate.

What were some of your favorite experiences during the Young Chef Olympiad competition?

Wow … it’s hard to pick the top favorites, but I will give it a shot. It was a really eye-opening experience traveling to India while friends and colleagues cheered me on to win the top prize. The opening ceremony was definitely a day engraved in my heart as every participant walked toe and toe with their mentor, with our home country flag carried before us. We were welcomed by dancers, cheering participants, and news networks from across the world.

I was honored to have the opportunity to meet a great professor, Mr. David Forskette, whose cookery books I have read. I greatly valued the opportunities to network and make friends with people from across the board,  some of them participants and some of them great mentors and judges. The food and culture from the host country, India, were definitely great takeaways.

My heart almost skipped a beat when my name was called out to receive the Mrs. Shankuntala Gupta Award for the best dessert. That was definitely the highlight for the entire journey and the hard work I had put into the competition.

“My heart almost skipped a beat when my name was called out to receive the Mrs. Shankuntala Gupta Award for the best dessert. That was definitely the highlight for the entire journey and the hard work I had put into the competition.”

First and foremost, I would like to thank God for the great opportunity. I dedicate the award to my supportive parents and to Kenya Utalii College, who really stood by me through the entire schooling and training process. It was really an honor to fly the Kenyan flag and represent my home country at the Young Chef Olympiad competition.

What future goals do you have for your career in the hospitality industry?

I would like to work in the hospitality industry to gain more experience, start my own chain of hotels later on, and be my own boss. I also want to share the knowledge that I would have amassed to aspiring students through training.

What advice would you have for other young people who want to study food production and build a career in hospitality?

For anyone aspiring to build a career in the food production industry, I would advise them to follow their passion, work hard, and give their best. It is a growing industry, and I would also advise one to look for a good culinary school, which will help you to build your skills and achieve your dreams.

Tell us what you think in the comments!