New Delhi, 12th June 2018: After months of efforts and a tough culinary battle comprising 5 rigorous rounds, the hunt for the best school student chef of India has finally come to an end. Amritsar born Guneev Sachdeva from Dehradun’s Welham Girls’ School has emerged as the winner of the 8th season of the Young Chef India (YCI) Schools, the country’s biggest culinary competition for school students. Guneev has won the competition amongst 30,000 higher secondary students from over 2,800 schools across the country. In the Mega Final of the competition, held on 9th June in Delhi, Guneev successfully managed to outclass her 7 opponents, all of whom were the top contestants from North, East, South and West zones. Young Chef India Schools (YCI) is a platform that gives an unique opportunity to higher-secondary students to get a glimpse of workings of the culinary industry and gain global recognition. Conceptualized and executed by the International Institute of Hotel Management (IIHM) since 2011, thousands of students have so far participated in this competition and realized their dream of displaying their culinary skills. This year, the competition was aired as a 5-episode special series on popular food lifestyle channel ‘Food Food’, giving the contestants recognition and appreciation across the country.
At the Mega Final, Guneev’s fabulous performance impressed the judges and opponents alike. Expressing her elation, Guneev said, “I can’t believe that I’ve actually won YCI Schools 2018! I’ve seen my seniors do exceptionally well in the earlier editions of the competition and I wanted to perform like them and make my school proud. Winning it is a different feeling altogether.” She further added, “The immense support from my friends, family and school, kept me motivated till the end. I’m especially thankful to all those who voted for me.”
Prior to the Mega Final, the competition was held in four zones – North, East, West and South – wherein the first three cook-off sessions were held in the home cities of the participants or at the nearest IIHM campus. The fourth round was held in Delhi in April, where 10 finalists from each zone competed for a place in the Mega Final. The top 2 contestants from each zone represented their zone in the Mega Final.
Apart from Guneev, the student chefs who made it to the Mega Final included Gurugram’s Tanya Yadav from the North Zone, Mrunal Khedekar and Siddhi M Rashivadekar from Pune representing the West Zone, Pratiksha and Zahan Gafoor from Bengaluru representing the South Zone, and Suvankhi Roy and Sarthak Soni from Kolkata representing the East Zone.
The Mega Final consisted of a ‘Basket and Dessert Test’ wherein a pre-decided basket of ingredients was provided. The contents of the basket were disclosed to the contestants 48 hours before the competition. The student chefs were given 120 minutes to prepare two identical plated main course dishes with accompaniments as well as two portions of a pre-decided identical dessert for which the recipe was provided in advance.
At the Mega Final cook-off, Guneev made a tomato fish dish, accompanied by Fried Arbi, Honey Chilli Lotus Stem and Jeera Rice. Describing her dish, Guneev said, “I tried to keep my fish as Indian as possible and prepared it in thin tomato gravy. I accompanied it with Fried Arbi because Arbi was a part of the basket ingredients and you get extra points if you aptly utilize the basket ingredients. With an idea to add some fusion element on my plate, I used Lotus Stem for an oriental honey chilli preparation. I think I was able to execute all my dishes well. Overall, it was a good day and everything went in my favour.”
The dishes were presented for tasting to the panel of judges that included Chef Sanjay Kak (Culinary Director, IIHM), Chef Shaun Kenworthy (Culinary Director, Indismart Group) and Surya Sekhar Roy Choudhury (First Runner-Up, International Young Chef Olympiad 2018). The contestants were judged on metrics such as accomplishment of given tasks in time, culinary skills and techniques, adherence to good health and safety and hygiene practice, minimal waste and best use of ingredients, professional appearance, attitude, dish presentation, taste and flavor. In the Mega Final, the judges’ scores accounted for 80% of the total scores while votes of the Food Food channel audience had 20% weightage in the overall judgment. Guneev was declared a winner on the basis of highest number of votes as well as excellent reviews from the judges.
Speaking about her family’s response to her YCI stint, Guneev says, “The happiest part was my family seeing my final plating and saying, “Okay Guneev, we didn’t know that you could do it so well!” They’ve always been extremely supportive towards my endeavors. Their happiness brings a certain sense of achievement. I’m hopeful that in future too I’ll continue to make my family proud.”
Guneev is determined to make it big in the culinary world. She says, “My ultimate aim is to become a Pastry Chef. However, initially I want to explore and excel at all kinds of cuisines, be it main course, desserts or starters. In this regard, Young Chef India Schools has helped me have clarity on my career path. Earlier I used to get influenced by people telling me that I should first get a conventional degree and then venture into culinary arts. Now, I know what I want to achieve in life and how I’m going to do that. Also, competing in so many rounds at YCI has taught me to cook in a competitive, time-bound and demanding atmosphere.”
Apart from the winner’s trophy, a few subsidiary awards were also declared. Guneev Sachdeva bagged the ‘Best Main Course Dish’ Award, Tanya Yadav from Gurugram was presented with the ‘Best Dessert’ Award and Zahan Gafoor from Bengaluru was presented with ‘The Best Organized Chef’ Award.
According to Dr. Suborno Bose (Founder & Chief Mentor of IndiSmart Group & IIHM), “We started 7 years ago with an aim to unearth future chefs of the nation and bring these budding chefs on a single platform. Today, with over 30,000 participants from all across the country, we see ourselves inching closer towards that goal. I would like to congratulate the winners, as well as all those who made it to the Mega Final of Young Chefs India Schools 2018. Looking at the proficiency of these next-gen chefs, I’m fully convinced that the future of India’s culinary industry is in safe and capable hands.”