How Kerala's meen pollichathu starred at the National Chef of the Year contest

How Kerala's meen pollichathu and chammanthi starred at the National Chef of the Year contest
Chef Jomon Kuriakose

Something fishy is cooking at the London-based 'The National Chef of the Year 2021' elite cookery contest where the crème de la crème of culinary experts take part.

The 'fishy' cooking comes courtesy of Jomon Kuriakose, who has entered the semi-finals of the prestigious show with the judges accepting his native drool-worthy Kerala speciality… 'meen pollichathu and thenga chammanthi' which helped him qualify for semi-finals. So onto the next stage, the semi-finals, with a 'bite size' meal!

Jomon worked on the concept of serving a platter of fusion food, the best of two worlds by integrating the taste of his native Kerala with the flavours of London where he now lives. It was with this concept in mind that he entered the famous contest with his homely dishes, love for his mother and memories of home.

His entry to the semi-finals is indeed a recognition for Kerala’s culinary specials, says Jomon.

The National Chef of the Year contest held in the UK is one of the most celebrated programs of its kind, where the best of chefs rub shoulders to vie for the coveted title. From over a thousand entrants, only 40 of the best are selected to take on the next stage from which the semi-finalists and the finalists are chosen. The contestants are given a theme at each stage based on which the dishes are to be cooked. As per rules, the contestants have to create a menu, write down the recipes along with accompanying descriptions which is then forwarded to the jury.

The first hurdle to be crossed this year was to go with the theme… Future 50 Ingredients. To go with the theme Jomon readied pumpkin steak. He came up with the idea of 'meen pollichathu' in banana leaf wrap for the land and sea concept and the final land theme saw him preparing a combo of coconut chammanthi and potato mezhukkupuratti, all earthy dishes. To suit the stipulation of localized dessert flavours, Jomon went for charcoal-infused milk pudding.

The next hurdles to cross are the semi-finals and the finals. Before the semi-finals he has to email a short script of what he’s planning to cook. The contests up to finals are held online. Here is where the 'bite size' comes in. The recipe for a small measure of the contestant’s favourite dish, that is, a bite size, as they call it, has to be forwarded at the semi-final stage.

Thus was born the idea of a bite size Kerala meal with fish. “In essence it should be like a full ball of rice my mum serves with love. I have to demonstrate this in style. How I plate my mum’s rice appealingly, trendily and in style is the challenge ahead”, says Jomon. Along with this demo, he also has to forward a paper answering all the questions thrown his way.

If he crosses this hurdle, he can move on to the next level and clear it by cooking any three menus on his list within a span of two hours. Clear this and you move on to the finals, says Jomon.

So it’s a happy Jomon Kuriakose who is looking forward to the semi-finals with his entry “A bite size Kerala meal”.

“Here I proudly showcase my signature dish for the entry of @craftguildofchefs#ncoty National Chef of the Year semi-final called “A bite size Kerala meal”, writes Jomon on his Instagram account.

This is a tribute to my mum for her love and to my culture, adds the chef.

The bite size platter has a bit of everything:
Boiled Kerala red rice
Black pepper chicken masala
Carrot and beans stir fry with coconut
Beetroot infused curried yoghurt (pachadi)
Spicy bitter gourd crisp
Tangy lime pickle
Pappadoms (Kerala)

Curry leaves oil
He signs off with a confession: This dish is very special to me and I have a profound bond to it, it’s my core nostalgia overwhelming my heart and tummy.

The National Chef of the Year contest was introduced in 1972. Some of the world-renowned chefs who have won the title include Gordon Ramsay, Alyn Williams and Mark Sargeant.

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