When I was young, one of my favourite TV programmes was MasterChef. This programme utterly fascinated me and was a source of great entertainment for my parents and I- a sort of guilty pleasure every Sunday afternoon. Loyd Grossman, the American-British host of the show amused me aplenty with his famous catchphrase, “We’ve deliberated, cogitated and digested” before he and his fellow judges would approach the three contestants and their masterpieces.
Fast forward twenty years, and the original MasterChef has since been revived and now there are the spin-offs Junior MasterChef and Celebrity MasterChef. I have to say I haven’t really kept track with the latest versions, but I’ll always hold fond memories of the original.
One day late last year, I found out with great surprise and pleasure that a MasterChef set-up exists in Hong Kong. Not in the form of a TVB programme or anything of that ilk, but at an international school called South Island School. SIS MasterChef is an Inter-House cooking competition that was launched in 2012 and much like TV’s Junior MasterChef whereby students between the ages of 11 through to 17 are put through different cooking challenges in a bid to claim the title of SIS MasterChef. There are two sections to the competition- the Junior section, aged 11-13 whereby they compete in teams of two, and the Senior section, aged 14-17 who compete individually.
The overall competition is broken up into four events; Entry, Quarter Finals, Semi-Finals and Finals. The Competition starts off with an unlimited number of applicants for the first challenge. The quarter finals has 22 contestants in each house that compete. In the semi-finals there are four students from each house. In the finals there is only one member from the senior section and one team from the juniors in each house. The school houses are Bahay, Casa, Shtepi, Kuca, Maison and Namas. The winner of the event will be awarded points for the house, which is to see which house performs the best in events throughout the year.
What is so fantastic about this event is how it not only encourages students to participate in a fun, competitive atmosphere, but it enables budding young chefs to display their talent and passion for cooking and gain a valuable learning experience at the same time. I was thoroughly impressed that the organisers were sixth-formers who oversaw every step of the competition. The two Heads of Events, Dominic Clark and Alex Llewellyn are both passionate about food and participated in previous MasterChef competitions. They also both have a GCSE in Catering and are keen to carve out careers in International Hospitality and Event Management; areas in which I’m sure they’ll be very successful in, given the smooth running of this competition.
But what does this have to do with me? I was one of a great crew of fellow bloggers and F&B influencers, including Lindsay Jang of Yardbird and Ronin, Gregoire Michaud and That Food Cray founders, Nicola Fung and Eugene Kan to be judges for the quarter-finals in February which I was more than delighted to accept! The QFs were spread over a few days, so on the 2nd day it was Stephanie Ko of Stephs852Diary and myself judging Houses Shtepi and Kuca.
The food technology rooms were huge and the first thing that struck me was how professional and serious all the participants were. The children were completely focused, answered our questions politely and explained what they were doing in a very clear manner. The QF challenge this year was Pastry and they had 90 minutes in which to prepare and present their dishes to us. Judging with us were the two Heads of Houses, who were visibly proud and equally impressed with their students’ efforts.
Seeing the students’ impressive repertoire of cooking skills and how passionate the sixth-formers were about the event and how they helped the younger years, got me in the mood to be more experimental in my own kitchen as well as inspiring me to approach my own lessons (in my day job as a tutor, not food blogger!), with a different perspective. Teachers are always looking at news ways of teaching, making lessons interesting and interactive as well as inspiring our students. And as I watched one student diligently watch his pastry rise in the oven, it dawned on me how cooking is such a wonderful way of teaching younger students a broad range of subjects: history (the origins of dishes, how our ancestors prepared food), language and culture (food from different countries, how to pronounce the various ingredients), science and maths (methods in cooking that doesn’t involve blowing things up (!), the food groups, where does our food come from, weighing and measuring ingredients).
Given how food-orientated Hong Kong is, I think South Island School has done a wonderful thing setting up this competition, and I hope that it continues to gain more coverage and motivates children to want to learn and enjoy cooking. Walking around the SIS kitchens and chatting to most of the students as they cooked really brought a smile to our faces. The dishes were judged according to 5 criteria- taste, texture, appearance, overall impression and food wastage (as the SIS team have partnered with Feeding Hong Kong) but when it came to making the final decisions, to me, all of them were winners, even those whose creations didn’t quite come out as planned. What counted were their efforts, tenacity and fantastic attitude to honing their skills. Enjoy the photos, (you’ll see which one we thought was the best all round), and maybe this weekend, you and yours can whip up a storm in the kitchen rather than eat out.
Well done again to the students of Shtepi and Kuca! I look forward to seeing the results of the final :)
South Island School MasterChef http://sismasterchef.weebly.com/
Many thanks again to the SIS team for the kind invite!