PubChef Awards - Eastern Cuisine

By Natalie Cooper

- Last updated on GMT

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With pub menus at chains and gastro pubs increasingly showing eastern influences, this category challenged pub chefs to create dishes with a...

With pub menus at chains and gastro pubs increasingly showing eastern influences, this category challenged pub chefs to create dishes with a Pan-Asian flavour, with Thai, Malaysian and Goan cuisine providing the inspiration. Natalie Cooper reports

Eastern dishes have become a prominent feature of pub menus with such dishes as chicken tikka masala, to name but one, ranked among the nation's favourite meals.

To reflect this trend, PubChef decided to introduce an Eastern Cuisine category where chefs could really excite the palette using the exotic ingredients and aromatic flavours of the Asia Pacific region.

To allow chefs to give free rein to their imaginative and creative skills, fusion dishes were allowed.

The judging panel was made up of Cyrus Todiwala MBE, owner of Café Spice Namaste; Richard Fagan, foodservice development manager for the Meat & Livestock Commission; Michael Tuckwood, representative of the Craft Guild of Chefs; Mark Taylor, food writer for papers and magazines,

including the Financial Times, Metro, Olive and PubChef, and Mark Lyddy, marketing and development controller for category sponsor Tilda Foodservice.

Chef: James Peck, second chef

Pub: Royal Oak, South Brent, Devon

Dish: Vietnamese monkfish and scallops

Menu price: £11

Cost of ingredients: £3

Why this dish? "I was at a Vietnamese restaurant in France and thought I could adapt this dish to make it suitable for pub food. I like it because it's a fusion of Indian and Vietnamese cuisine that's light and fragrant."

Background: James originally wanted to go to college to study art, design or multi-media, but switched to cheffing when he was first taken on as kitchen porter for the Royal Oak. James has been with the pub for two-and-a-half years and has worked his way up to second chef. He's also attended catering college. The pub holds weekly Indian and Chinese buffet nights, at £8 a head, offering a mix of traditional and speciality dishes.

Chef: Tamas Khan, executive chef

Pub: Jim Thompson's, Putney, London

Dish: Seared scallops on a bed of wok-fried pea shoots, served with caramelised belly pork and a pea and wasabi dressing

Menu price: £13.50

Cost of ingredients: £3.20

Why this dish? "I think this dish gives off a unique oriental flavour with the pea and wasabi diluting the strong flavours of the caramelised pork. This dish is a merging of the east with the west."

Background: Tamas is from Laos but grew up in Thailand. Every year he travels back home, and frequently visits Malaysia so he can keep a handle on the latest trends in Eastern cuisine. He loves working with fresh ingredients, especially when he can hand-pick them off the tree when he is home or visiting other Asian countries. Tamas has been

head chef with Jim Thompson's for over 10 years.

Chef: Jason Howlett, joint head chef

Pub: Ring O'Bells, Thornton, Bradford

Dish: Pan-fried tiger prawns, topped with a sweet Thai caramel sauce, on a coconut and lime risotto cake with a papaya and tomato salsa

Menu price: £12.95

Cost of ingredients: £4

Why this dish? "I created this dish for the competition because I wanted to try something new and approach Thai food from a different angle. The salsa is bitter with the main dish being sweet."

Background: Jason's father was a chef and used to own a hotel in Scarborough, then a pub, so from a young age he says he was encouraged to cook. All the ingredients he uses in the pub are fresh and generally come from a local farm shop one mile down the road, with deliveries being made up to twice a day.

Chef: Indunil Upatissa, sous chef

Pub: Noel Arms Hotel, Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire

Dish: Ceylon seafood coconut curry

Menu price: £12.50

Cost of ingredients: £2.65

Why this dish? "I come from Sri Lanka so I chose a dish that was more typical of Sri Lankan food. I wanted a combination of spices to bring out the flavours of the seafood. This is a mild curry dish more suitable for the English palette."

Background: Indunil worked for seven years in a 5-star hotel in the Maldives where he was taught the art of Chinese cooking by Chinese chefs. One moved to the UK and encouraged Indunil to do the same. He found a position with the Noel Arms when it opened a year ago. All the chefs are Asian

as the owner wants customers to taste eastern cuisine as if they are actually being served it in the region that the dish comes from.

Chef: Sean Russell, head chef

Pub: Baskerville Arms, Henley-on-Thames, Oxon

Dish: Monkfish and seafood nori roll with coconut rice

Menu price: £13.95

Cost of ingredients: £3.25

Why this dish? "It's interesting and a bit different. I put this on the menu for most of August and it was quite popular."

Background: Sean fell into cheffing by accident when he graduated from university with a degree in furniture restoration and was looking for work. He ended up working at a friend's pub in the bar and kitchen. Sean liked the fact that every day was completely different, so he attended day release at college. The Baskerville Arms is the fifth pub he

has worked at; he has been there for a year and a half. Sean enjoys working with seafood and cooks it simply rather than drown it in a rich sauce.

The judges' verdicts on the finalists

James Peck:"He showed great aptitude and shows real potential. He seemed to be very inspired by what he does. To get to the finals was an achievement in itself and he was brave to take part against very experienced chefs."

Tamas Khan: "He showed off excellent knowledge and skill. He was composed. He also demonstrated good use of a cheap cut of meat. Overall he used strong ingredients that gave off

good flavours, which were also interesting."

Jason Howlett: "The prawns were perfectly cooked and tasted fantastic. His salsa was fresh. He was pretty cool and relaxed in the kitchen. A great pub dish with good aromas. He'll go a long way."

Indunil Upatissa: "Well disciplined. His presentation was immaculate. In terms of his traditional skill, his process was perfect. The dish would be wellaccepted in pubs and fits

the perception of pub food."

Sean Russell: "His presentation was fantastic. It was a novel and creative concept. The idea of mixing hot and cold elements was a good idea."

The winner

Jason Howlett delighted the judges with his tiger prawns on a risotto cake with salsa, with Cyrus Todiwala saying: "This is the one dish I wanted to keep on going back to for more and then completely demolish."

Jason has been with the pub for eight years and is considered a good teacher by owner Clive Preston, who says of him: "Jason is incredible. He never gets flustered and the kitchen is always a calm environment, although he is firm as he wants everyone to deliver quality. He's always

encouraging his team to show off new ideas to one other.

"Winning the award means a lot to me," says Jason. "It's good for business and also helps your reputation. I was intrigued by the Eastern Cuisine category because I've never seen it in any other competition and it gives you a free rein to be really creative."

The pub serves an average 900 to 1,000 covers a week, with food making up 75% of the pub's total turnover. The judges praised Jason for his knowledge of food ingredient costings and menu pricing. Other main dishes from the pub's menu include joint of lamb shoulder marinated in red wine, brandy and cinnamon roasted with rosemary, mint, celery and carrots (£14.95), and poached prime fresh haddock gratinated with a prawn mornay sauce (£11.45).

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