Award winning young chef, Gemma Field talks Chinese hotpot, that win and a once in a lifetime trip to Hong Kong
At 22 years, Gemma Field is at the start of what seems to be a flourishing career in food. Currently pastry chef at Amadeus which is the NEC’s acclaimed in-house catering division, Gemma was crowned Young Oriental Chef of the Year against stiff competition in February. Aside from the victory being sweet, part of Gemma’s prize is a dream gastronomic trip to Hong Kong which she is particularly excited about. She enthused, “I was so excited. At first all I could think about was the trophy and for a moment I forgot about the trip to Hong Kong. That is going to be amazing.”
Gemma trained at the University College Birmingham’s College of Food followed by a stint at The Rep’s Searcys-run restaurant before moving to Amadeus at the ICC. Under executive chef, Simon Hellier who Gemma describes as ‘brilliant’ she has learnt a huge amount working various sections of the kitchen honing her skills. She’s now pastry chef which she’s relishing. “I’ve always been arty and food allows me to be creative every day. I love it.” I wonder how challenging it is catering for some of the ICC’s mammoth events compared to a normal restaurant environment, but Gemma says apart from the numbers game there’s little difference. “There’s no compromising on the quality of the food at all despite catering for such large numbers. I suppose if there’s a mistake, you’re not messing up ten covers, it’s more like hundreds, so there’s more stress from that point of view.” As well as working normal service, Gemma holds petit fours masterclasses at the ICC among other events.
The Young Oriental Chef of the Year competition sponsored by Wing Yip aims to find the best young chefs in the country with a flair for pan-Asian flavours. Now in its third year, the competition attracts entries from across the UK. Incidentally, in the interest of bigging up Brum, it’s worth noting that the top three chefs hail from the Midlands. Held at University College Birmingham (UCB) the competition has a rigorous judging process with a distinguished panel including Glynn Purnell along with President of the British Culinary Federation, Peter Griffiths and 2013 Masterchef finalist Larkin Cen. After reaching the final Gemma took part in a masterclass style cook off against the 14 other finalists preparing a two course meal. Gemma’s two courses were show stopping and read like a Michelin starred menu. Lobster three ways including a delicious sounding hot lobster bon bon followed by baby chicken infused with jasmine tea among many other complex techniques and flavours. No sweet dishes then? “That’s funny isn’t it? I’ve entered a few competitions and despite being a pastry chef I’ve never cooked a dessert!” We were there on the evening and can vouch for Gemma’s excitement after she was announced as winner. “I still can’t quite believe I won. I was really pleased with the food I served up – I thought I had done myself proud – but seeing the other finalists’ dishes, I had no idea how mine tasted against theirs.”
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Of Birmingham’s burgeoning food scene Gemma is spoilt for choice when quizzed about her favourites. “There’s some amazing street food in Birmingham plus Purnell’s, Loves, Adams and Simpsons are still doing great things.” She adds, “My favourite dish to eat is Chinese hotpot in Chinatown where you have a hot spicy broth in the middle of the table with raw prawns that you cook yourself in the liquid. It’s lovely.” The restaurant at UCB gets a name check too. “It’s probably my favourite restaurant. It’s consistently excellent.”
“I’d like to take part in more competitions if I get put forward for them and work experience in a Michelin starred restaurant would be good too.” Before all that Gemma has a little trip to Hong Kong on her mind. “Having learnt so much at the ICC I’m hoping I’ll learn lots of new skills and dishes in Hong Kong that I can try out when I get home. It would be great to give something back.”