International Indian Chef of the Year Competition 2017

The winner of this year's competition was announced at the awards ceremony held on 9th October in the presence of Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal. The winning chef was Milon Miah from the Spice Island restaurant in Barnard Castle, County Durham. His winning menu was:

Borta Roulette - crispy balls of potato with a variety of flavourings: smoked salmon and black pepper, spiced cauliflower and herbs and spring onion and fresh chilli.

Loin of venison marinated in olive oil, herbs and spices, seared on a hot skillet and served with a spicy reduced stock.

Lightly spiced, pan-fried asparagus.

Milon Miah's Borta Roulette   credit: Al Stuart

Milon was an outstanding winner. His dishes were expertly cooked and perfectly spiced. The venison picked up the flavours of the marinade beautifully and was tender and succulent. The borta were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside with a contrasting variety of flavours and spicing for the fillings. His venison was sourced locally from Raby Farm in Teesdale.

Exactly one week before the awards ceremony, the seven finalists had arrived early in the morning at the Billingsgate Seafood School to prepare the menus which had won them a place in the final. At that point, any one of the contestants could have ended up as the winner. There should have been eight contestants but the winner of the Bangladesh heat was not able to obtain her visa in time for the competition. Fortunately, the winner of the Kolkata heat was able to make the final. The contestants were:

Dhurri Bhalla, a cook from Kolkata, India
Manish Chand Shah of the Moksh Indian Restaurant, Cardiff - third place
Sarah Ali Choudhury, a caterer and food writer from Bournemouth
Sunil Kumar of Asha's restaurant, Birmingham
Milon Miah of the Spice Island restaurant, Barnard Castle - winner
Shanker Pandey of the Everest Inn, Ashford - runner up
Swetha Pattanshetty Shivakumar, a cook from Harrow

The finalists in action (foreground: the runner-up - Shanker Pandey)   credit: Al Stuart

The contestants had two hours in which to make their dishes. Some rushed ahead with their cooking, others worked slowly and steadily, but all the contestants finished cooking the dishes from their menus on time. The Billingsgate Seafood School training kitchen was an ideal place for the cooking. It is light and airy and well equipped with everything the chefs might need. When the two hours cooking time was up the contestants had to transfer their finished dishes into tiffin carriers for the next stage in the adventure.

David Smith with the competition's founder Tommy Miah   credit: Al Stuart

And what an adventure it was. The contestants and their creations, the judges, a TV film crew and of course the founder of the competition, Tommy Miah, piled into a fleet of taxis and headed for Kings Cross station through the snarled-up London traffic. We made it just in time to board a Virgin Train's first class carriage for the next stage of the competition - the judging. The train headed off for York and each contestant had 15 minutes in which to plate up their dishes in the train's galley and make their presentation as attractive as possible. The judges then had the pleasant, but surprisingly difficult, task of tasting each contestant's creations and allocating marks as we thought fit.

Sarah Ali Choudhury in action in the kitchen   credit: Al Stuart

We were still judging the last contestant when we pulled into York station. What the passengers getting onto the train thought, I don't know. On the way back to London the judges got together to discuss their marking. We all agreed that the quality of the cooking was extremely high again this year. But only one of the contestants could win and we chose Milon Miah as the winner with Shanker Pandey as the runner-up. It would have been nice to go and congratulate the chefs straight away but that was not allowed. The result had to be kept top secret until the awards ceremony a week later.

The judges were asked to get to the awards ceremony early because we were to be presented to the guest of honour, The Princess Royal. So, when the time came, we were ushered into a separate room along with representatives from the various sponsors and other VIPs. Princess Anne came and joined us and managed to talk to each person in the room. What a great honour that was. Once the formalities were over we joined the waiting guests in the main hall. Then the fun began.

The Princess Royal handing the winner's trophy to Milon Miah   credit: Jonathan Hordle

There were dancers and singers and swirling lights but soon there was calm because the awards were about to begin. Tommy Miah welcomed The Princess Royal and thanked her for attending the ceremony. Next, Marie Clare Tully, the chief executive of Columba 1400, the charity who was the beneficiary of the awards evening, told the audience about the worthwhile and valuable work the charity performs with disadvantaged young people, Finally, there came the moment everyone was waiting for. Trish Thomson, the chair of the judges declared Milon Miah to be the winner and he came to the stage to proudly receive his award from Princess Anne.

The Princess Royal with the finalists, Trish Thomson and Tommy Miah   credit: Jonathan Hordle

There were many other awards made on the night for individual restaurants, groups of restaurants and a special lifetime achievement award, given posthumously, to the actor Saeed Jaffrey whose widow accepted the award on his behalf. I was delighted to be asked to present the award for the best restaurant group in Wales to the Juboraj Group and hand over the trophy to their representative.

Now the evening was over, The winners were having their photos taken with their awards and the judges were looking forward to doing it all over again next year.

associated links:

Tommy Miah's International Indian Chef of the Year Competition
Chef Milon Miah - winner 2017
Spice Island
Columba 1400
Billingsgate Seafood School

The Cooking Colonel of Madras by David Smith