A tutor’s diary captures the sights, sounds and tastes of Zest Quest Asia in Bangkok 2023

By Denis Sheehan FIH

Zest Quest Asia 2023 winning Students Nekeshia Alcee, Olivia Parker-Smith and Prema Rebekah Kaur Sembi-Harding


For one week in May, Zest Quest Asia 2023 champions from the University of West London were able to imbibe the heady sights, sounds and tastes of Asia via their first prize trip to Bangkok, Thailand.

Nathan Vasanthan, senior lecturer at the university’s London Geller College of Hospitality and Tourism, who tutored BSc(Hons) Culinary Arts management students Nekeshia Alcee, Prema Rebekah Kaur Sembi-Harding and BSc(Hons) Nutrition and Food Management student Olivia Parker-Smith to a well-fought victory over other student chefs in the tenth year of this prestigious competition, kept a diary of their culinary adventures, which Zest Quest Asia founders Cyrus and Pervin Todiwala are delighted to share below.

Nathan writes:

The University of West London- London Geller College of Hospitality and Tourism students and their mentor — 2023 Zest Quest Asia winners — embarked on a culinary and educational trip to explore the rich culture and vibrant flavours of Thailand. We immersed ourselves in a truly unique experience in Bangkok which offered a plethora of culinary delights and educational opportunities.

The programme included

A dining experience at some of the hidden gems of Bangkok. Charmgang restaurant is extremely popular among the locals. One of the dishes was a shrimp paste and scallop served on a crispy cracker, alongside a spiced pomelo. This was the favourite of the whole meal. The flavours were amazingly balanced, with the pomelo including a fresh and zesty bite to go along with the delicious salty flavours. To finish our meal, we had some amazing desserts, including an elevated mango and rice dish.

We have never experienced such authentic, modern Thai cuisine — a great dining experience. The Thai omelette and stir-fried beef were outstanding.

We were then taken to Bangkok’s top cocktail bar, Tropic City, which has been named one of the World’s 50 Best Bars.

Learning and dining experience at Benjarong-Baan Dusit Thani

The students enjoyed a hands-on learning and dining experience at and introduction to the ‘Thai Aristocrats’ dining at Benjarong- Baan Dusit Thani, Bangkok.

The Baan Dusit Thani team shared with us their take on Thai Aristocrats dining. They explained the story behind every dish at Benjarong Bangkok. We were lucky to experience the harmony and excellence of the such flavours and indulgence in an atmosphere of luxury and comfort.

A Somtam masterclass at ZAO a restaurant specialising in Isan cuisine

Here we experienced uncompromising Isan flavours presented in a chic manner and served in a minimalist Brutalist setting. Eve Palasak, co-owner of ZAO is a well-known chef of Isan origin from North-eastern Thailand, which has its own culinary culture, taught us how making the iconic papaya salad (Somtam) can be fun. Believe it or not, part of the recipe includes singing and dancing.

A Day at The Food School

Our educational journey continued at The Food school- renowned for promoting culinary excellence in a state-of-the-art facility. We were introduced to authentic Thai ingredients, preparation, and cooking methods. The importance of using pestle mortar in Thai cuisine was reinforced. The chefs demonstrated how ingredients are prepared and can affect the flavours, textures, and aroma. One preparation stood out for us, the authentic Thai green curry paste, which was nothing like we had experienced in the UK.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank, Mr. Siradej Donavanik (Champ), Vice president of Dusit, for hosting us and introducing us to some of Bangkok’s hidden gems.

We would also like to thank Zest Quest Asia gold sponsors Mizkan UK, Tilda, McCormick, Panasonic, Cobra, Radisson and all other sponsors for supplying their products and support. Thank you also to Hallde for providing training on sharpening knives and teaching the thought process behind it. Likewise, to Tormek and Metcalf Catering Equipment.

We are extremely proud of our students and their achievement in winning the Zest Quest Asia competition for the third time. Thank you, Cyrus and Pervin Todiwala, for creating this unique event.

The uniqueness of this competition is that, on top of the craft skills, a significant level of emphasis is given to the knowledge of the participants, allowing them to stretch their learning and imagination. Our team was given the opportunity to show creativity, innovation, and authenticityin how sustainability can be interpreted and measured every step of the way, that is, from sourcing, upcycling, repurposing wastage, energy efficient food processing practices with cutting edge technologies.

On top of the winning prize, our team was also awarded the ‘Best Use of a Panasonic Oven’ for microwave-assisted, energy efficient food production sponsored by Panasonic UK, and the ‘Minimum Wastage Award’ sponsored by McCormick.

The Zest Quest Asia competition provides not only a fantastic platform for our students to demonstrate the impact of how and what they study at university benefits them, but it seems to have ignited their interest in the Asian restaurant sector as a career option.

Last but not least, we would like to thank all the judges, sponsors and everyone who this wonderful educational trip possible.

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