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In conversation with Young Risotto Chef of the Year winner, Emily Simkins

11th April 2023

Last week, the much anticipated Young Risotto Chef of the Year competition, organised by Gallo Rice was held at the brilliant Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. As sponsors of the competition, our team were so pleased to be invited to support the competitors and congratulate our winner, Emily Simkins, a talented student from North Hertfordshire College. We caught up with Emily to find out a little bit more about her, the dish she cooked for the final, how she felt she performed during the competition and her future career ambitions. 

1. Tell us a little bit about you, your studies and work experience? 

Hi, I’m Emily Simkins from North Hertfordshire College studying Level 3 Professional Cookery. Since entering college at level 2, I have taken part in many work experiences such as The Star Inn at Harome with Michelin Star Andrew Pern, Fortnum and Mason with Exec Pastry Chef Roger Pizey, The Fox at Willian - 2 rosette restaurant supporting Michelin Star Simon Hulstone and Seafood from Norway campaign. I have also taken part in numerous Pub in the Parks with The Star Inn, Atul Kochhar Restaurants and The Kentish Hare. I absolutely love saying yes to as many opportunities as possible to get as much experience as I can, each and every one of them has been a blast and I can’t wait for more!

2. Who has had the most influence on your career?

I would say the person who has had the most influence on my career would be my mum. She only wants me to do what I am passionate about and that is cooking. Growing up, we were a baking household, there was always something in the oven which we would make together.

I would also say my lecturer, Anthony Gascoinge has influenced me too. He has taught me loads in the last 2 years that I will take with me into the industry past college. But most of all to be passionate and hardworking.

3. How did you find out about the Young Risotto Chef competition and what made you enter?

I found out about Young Risotto Chef of the Year through college. I first entered the competition in 2021 when I joined level 2, I managed to be awarded the wild card in my regional heat. This gave me the Inspiration and drive to push even harder when I entered in 2022, producing a humble, seasonal and sustainable dish - Jerusalem Artichoke Risotto with Artichoke Bark, Leeds Blue Yorkshire Pecorino, Toasted Hazelnuts and Truffle Oil. Once again I was awarded the wild card in my heat, but luckily, I was pulled through to the final! 

4. Tell us about the dish you cooked for the final? Did you use any Essential Cuisine products? 

For this year, I made a Jerusalem Artichoke Risotto with Artichoke Bark, Leeds Blue Yorkshire Pecorino, Toasted Hazelnuts and Truffle Oil. I chose to make this risotto because I really wanted to showcase the seasonal winter ingredient - Jerusalem Artichoke. I was able to create great flavour when the produce available is limited. Incorporating a ‘zero waste’ theme, I utilised the Artichoke skin, something which would normally be thrown away. The rich, earthy flavour of the creamy artichoke purée worked well with the crisp texture of the nutty Artichoke Bark and the salty blue cheese, it was a perfect balance of flavours and textures. To my risotto, I am adding Yorkshire Pecorino ‘Leeds Blue’ cheese for richness (and a squeeze of lemon for acidity to cut through the richness),truffle oil for added earthiness and toasted hazelnuts for nuttiness. I made a vegetarian stock for this dish, reinforced with Essential Cuisine's Vegetable Stock Mix, I really wanted to focus on this as it is becoming more popular to be vegetarian and is better for the planet. I garnished with nasturtium leaves and alyssum flowers to visually enhance the ‘woodland’ theme of my dish.

5. When did you have time to practise?

Finding the time to practice for this competition proved difficult at times. Any free early morning and late night at college we had, I would be in the kitchen non stop practicing - making sure every element on the dish was perfect.

6. How did you find the competition as a whole? Were you pleased with your performance (before you found out the results?) 

As a whole, the competition was amazing, the day was great and meeting all my fellow competitors was lovely. The buzz of the stadium was thrilling and to cook in the H Club kitchen was so cool!
I felt as prepared as I could be - more excited than anything. I thought I did well in the cook, considering it was a foreign kitchen, but I had practiced the dish enough that that didn’t matter and I just got on with it.
I was pleased with how my risotto turned out overall and I felt my dish was portrayed the way it should - being seasonal, sustainable and zero waste. 

7. Tell us about your other competition achievements?

I’m a very competitive person and therefore love a competition! I’ve entered as many as I could get my hands on throughout college.
Kicking it off with the first ever comp I entered - Zest Quest Asia, Autumn Panasonic Challenge 2021. The task was to make a complete dish using only a Panasonic Combination Microwave. It was such a fun one to do and learnt so much about the future of technology. I was fortunate enough to come 1st in the competition and win the Panasonic for my college.

After that, it was my first opportunity of entering Young Risotto Chef of the Year 2022 and was awarded the wildcard for my regional heat.

Zest Quest Asia 2022 - me and my team reached the final which we were over the moon with. We didn’t quite make the top but coming second gave us the biggest push to try even harder for the next year. We came away with some excellent prizes and an even stronger team.

2023 Zest Quest Asia, we were thrilled to receive the news we made it to the final one last time. We worked so so hard for it, with all the knowledge we knew from the previous year and took on board all the feedback to better ourselves for the final. Once again we just missed the mark but came away with 3 incredible prizes - a trip to Italy, a Tormek Knife Sharpener and a HALLDE Food Processor. Both years was a very memorable experience and are thrilled we got the chance to be a part of it.

8. What does the future hold for you? What are your future career ambitions? 

My future ambitions would be to learn as much as I can doing work experience, stages, meeting chefs and networking. I would like to be a chef who makes a difference, being as seasonal and sustainable as I can; zero waste to improve the environment. The younger generation - my generation - can still make an impact on, and better our future by doing little changes… such as utilising wastage or minimising it. I love what I do and I cannot wait to see what my future holds.

A huge thank you to everyone at Riso Gallo, Essential Cuisine, Fillipo Berio, Rak Porcelain - Craig, Yorkshire Pecorino- Mario, North Hertfordshire College and Anthony Gascoinge for supporting me throughout my journey. Thank you for an excellent opportunity, can’t wait for Italy!

Emily, many thanks for taking the time. From us all at Essential Cuisine, well done on all of your achievements and we wish you all the very best for your future career! 

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