Aisling Rock, a 21-year-old Culinary Arts student at GMIT, Galway, has been announced as the European Young Chef for 2017, following a practical skills test at the University College of Hospitality Management and Culinary Arts in Sant Pol de Mar, Barcelona on Monday.
Innovation on tradition was the theme for the competition, which saw eight student chefs compete in the final. Rock, the only female chef among the finalists, was mentored by Shane Sheedy, last year's Irish representative in the competition.
The final of the 2018 competition will be held in Galway, as part of the year-long programme of events for European Region of Gastronomy.
"I am so delighted to be bringing this award home to Ireland and the west, so grateful to GMIT for their support and encouragement, and to the wonderful food producers who gave me produce to showcase and cook with. These include Mary's Fish, Velvet Cloud, Burke's Fruit & Veg and Achill Sea Salt. I love cooking and learning and this is a huge dream come true," Rock told The Irish Times.
Rock’s dish – Mackerel, Pickle, Sheep Yoghurt – was inspired by a traditional recipe for salted mackerel with root vegetables and potatoes.
The brief was for competitors to showcase raw ingredients from their native region and to “creatively combine them according to their personal innovative reinterpretations of the regions’ traditional recipes”.
According to the competition organisers, Rock’s entry “was prepared using fish preserved with a curing method from the gastronomic heritage of her region and seasonal, locally grown vegetables. A taste of the strong sheep farming tradition of Galway was conveyed by sheep yoghurt”.
Rock told the international judging panel she wanted them to “experience my story and my region through my food”.
“The jury not only considered the taste and aesthetics of the dish, but they also assessed the level of innovation with respect to the traditional recipe, the use and valorisation of local products and the creative narrative of the dish’s cultural connections to the region, which Aisling successfully communicated during her presentation,” a spokesperson said.
The annual competition, now in its second year, is run by the International Institute of Gastronomy, Culture, Arts and Tourism, a non-profit organisation established in 2012, and has Spanish chef Joan Roca as its ambassador.
There are further opportunities for young Irish chefs to shine with the forthcoming final of the Euro-Toques Young Chef of the Year competition in Dublin on November 19th, and the semi-final of the S. Pellegrino Young Chef 2018 in London on November 20th.
Three Irish chefs are among the 10 who have reached the UK and Ireland semi-final of the S. Pellegrino competition. Killian Crowley, chef de partie at Aniar Restaurant in Galway, Michael Tweedie, head chef at The Oakroom Restaurant at Adare Manor, and Romuald Bukaty, chef de partie at The Clayton, Dublin Airport, will compete for a place in the final of the global challenge which takes place in Milan next June.
Finnish-born, Dublin-based chef Mickael Viljanen from the Michelin-starred Dublin restaurant, The Greenhouse, is on the judging panel for the London semi-final along with chefs Angela Hartnett, Alyn Williams and Phil Howard.
The six finalists in the Euro-Toques Ireland competition, open to professional chefs under the age of 26, are Daniel Guerin (24), chef de partie at Campagne, Kilkenny; Conor Halpenny (23), chef de partie at Chapter One, Dublin; Jack Lenards (21), chef de partie at Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, Dublin; Jason Nolan (22) chef de partie at Aghadoe Heights Hotel and Spa, Killarney; Bronagh Rogers (24) chef de partie at Viewmount House and Evan O'Ceallaigh (21) chef de partie at Ardilaun Hotel, Galway.