Sat | Dec 3, 2022

Culinary competition boosts student’s dream of becoming a restaurateur

Published:Thursday | November 24, 2022 | 12:07 AM
Jodi-Ann Cohen (right), assistant brand manager for Heineken, presented Nashjua-Kaye Johnson with a cheque for $150,000.
Jodi-Ann Cohen (right), assistant brand manager for Heineken, presented Nashjua-Kaye Johnson with a cheque for $150,000.
Nashjua-Kaye Johnson is focused as she prepares her final dish.
Nashjua-Kaye Johnson is focused as she prepares her final dish.
A look at the Heineken Culinary Arts Cook-Off contestants’ final dishes.
A look at the Heineken Culinary Arts Cook-Off contestants’ final dishes.
Gleaming with pride – winner Nashjua-Kaye Johnson shows off her winning dish – a seafood pinwheel with Irish and sweet potato mash, sauteed vegetables and topped with a creamy Heineken sauce.
Gleaming with pride – winner Nashjua-Kaye Johnson shows off her winning dish – a seafood pinwheel with Irish and sweet potato mash, sauteed vegetables and topped with a creamy Heineken sauce.
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Nashjua-Kaye Johnson, a culinary arts student at the University of Technology (UTech), is one step closer to realising her dreams of becoming a restaurateur after winning the Heineken Culinary Arts Cook-Off. Driven by passion and faith to fulfil her destiny, Johnson has begun strategising a farm-to-table concept for when she owns her own restaurant.

The fourth-year culinary arts major had always enjoyed being creative in the kitchen, whether making fried dumplings with her father or decorating cakes with her mother. Initially wanting to study law, Johnson is now on her way to completing her degree. “I decided to pursue culinary arts because I wanted to do something that would help to make people happy while being creative. Becoming a chef gives me a unique opportunity to do both, and I have not regretted the choice,” said Johnson following the competition.

The competition, held last month, gave talented young chefs from UTech the opportunity to impress a line-up of judges with their ability to make a scrumptious meal from a basket of surprise ingredients and Heineken. The winning contestant would also walk away with a $150,000 cash prize.

Before entering the competition, Johnson was shy and second-guessed whether she would stand out. However, she reminded herself that the sky was the limit and that she was ultimately in charge of her dish and decided to give it her all. Anxiety kicked in when she was tasked with creating a seafood dish with a Heineken twist. She took a moment to assess her ingredients and then pulled on her experience to develop the most creative dish she could think of.

“I had to think quickly about how I would incorporate all the seafood in the dish. I remembered a technique I learnt in [my] first year, and I decided to use it to make my dish,” she recalled. Johnson copped the first prize, winning the hearts and stomachs of the judges with a seafood pinwheel, Irish and sweet potato mash, [and] sautéed vegetables with a creamy Heineken-infused sauce.

Today, Johnson is excited and hopeful as the experience has given her a new outlook on the future and her capabilities. She will put the prize money won towards her tuition as she sees this degree in culinary arts as the gateway to creating a name for herself in the food and beverage industry.

“I love everything about what I do. I cannot wait to create more and build relationships with other chefs,” she said, adding the encouragement: “It can be exhausting and hectic at times, but once this is something you love, don’t shy away from opportunities. Food is a vital part of our existence; you can create from anywhere. Just be faithful and believe in your abilities; it will all work out.”