A Gort student has been named the winner of the European Young Chef Award 2017 by wowing a panel of international judges with a dish of salted mackerel and sheep’s yoghurt.
Aisling Rock is in the second year of her culinary arts certificate course in the GMIT. The 21-year-old was up against seven other young chefs for the competition set up as part of the European Region of Gastronomy designation.
The theme for this year’s contest was innovating on tradition. Aisling chose mackerel and researched how it was cured and salted in the past so it could get a much longer shelf life making it a staple of people in the West of Ireland as far back as the Famine.
She used the belly of the mackerel, which is often thrown away by chefs. She rolled it in charred hay so that it looked like a sod of turf.
She pickled root vegetables and herbs sourced locally and managed to mould the sheep’s yoghurt to create a dynamic sphere shape.
She picked sheep’s yoghurt to denote the strong sheep farming tradition of Galway.
She told the jury she wanted them to “experience my story and my region through my food.” Jacinta Dalton, head of the culinary arts department, said Aisling was not only the youngest finalist in the competition, she was also the only female.
“Aisling is very grounded. She works part-time in Dromoland Castle so she has an amazing career ahead of her. Not only did she have to prepare the dish, she had to tell her story of the dish to the audience, giving a culinary history of Galway,” she remarked.
“Often times it’s a push to send students to competition, but it’s so important we take every opportunity to get Galway onto the international stage now that Galway is the 2018 European Region of Gastronomy.”
Aisling was mentored by last year’s finalist, Shane Sheedy, who is culinary arts technician in GMIT.
The jury not only considered the taste and aesthetics of the dish, but they also assessed the level of innovation used in the traditional recipe, the use of local products and the presentation by the chef about the dish’s cultural connections to the region.
Top judge Argiro Barbarigou, a celebrity chef in Greece, remarked on the high level of all the finalists’ technical skill.
“The jury was unanimous that the taste of Aisling’s dish was amazing with a rich variety of flavours,” said a spokesperson for the contest.
Held at the University College of Hospitality Management and Culinary Arts in Sant Pol de Mar, Barcelona, this the second year of the European Young Chef Award.
Next year the awards will be held in the GMIT as part of the year-long gastronomy events.
As well as winning the title and a perpetual trophy, Aisling was presented with a signed copy of a book by the chefs behind El Celler de Can Roca, a restaurant in Girona, twice ranked No.1 in the world.
One of the brothers behind the restaurant, Joan Roca, was last year’s top judge.
Jacinta is hoping as part of prize, that Aisling will be invited to the restaurant for dinner – where the waiting list for a table is 11 months.