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Pastry chef overwhelmed by cooking competition win

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Young Chef Competition winner Alejandro Trujillo (Photograph by Jack Rhind)

When judges announced Alejandro Trujillo was the winner of the Young Chefs (Chaîne Jeune Commis) cooking competition, all he could say was ‘wow!’.

“I felt overwhelmed,” the 25-year-old from El Salvador said. “I started thinking about where I had come from, and all the places I had worked to get there. Having the chance to take part in the competition was a big thing for me.”

He was unsure if he even had a chance, until judges gave their feedback after the appetiser round.

“They praised my fish filleting,” Mr Trujillo said. “I am a pastry chef at the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club, so fish is way out of my comfort zone. I was up against two of my colleagues, Jomeko Mallory and Leo Harris, and they are both very good. The judges’ feedback made me think maybe this is my time.”

The competition, organised by the gastronomy group Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, got off to a bumpy start for him.

In his native El Salvador, it is customary to be at least 30 minutes early. On time was tardy, in his estimation.

“The taxi was late,” Mr Trujillo said. “I waited outside for 30 minutes, and I was so stressed. I was like ‘why is this happening to me?’”

He arrived at the competition venue, the Bermuda College, at 6.45am, 15 minutes early.

“I was the first one there,” he admitted sheepishly.

Young Chef competitors Jomeko Mallory (second place), left, Leo Harris (third place), Alejandro Trujillo (first place) and competition organiser Chris Malpas (Photograph supplied)

Competitors were tasked with making a three-course meal for four people.

“That is 12 plates in total,” he said.

Besides staples, the main ingredients he would be cooking with were kept a secret until the big day.

“It wasn’t so much a mystery box, as a mystery pan with all the ingredients on it,” he said.

Two pheasants, two whole sea breams, Asian pears and cottage cheese were among the surprise cooking items. Competitors had to use at least half of each mystery food.

He had been practising and researching every day for three months.

For an appetiser he made herb and cornmeal crusted sea bream, polenta cubes, with a beurre blanc sauce and herbed oil. His main consisted of walnuts and cheese-crusted pheasant breast, seared scallop, butternut squash purée, pheasant leg and cottage cheese tartlet with pheasant jus. His dessert was charred pavlova, Asian pear and cottage cheese cream with fresh berries with basil macerated sauce.

Mr Trujillo grew up in Lourdes, a city 30 minutes west of the capital of San Salvador.

“My grandmother and great grandmother were housemaids,” he said. “I grew up watching them cook for other people. They would work in different ingredients, and I found it really interesting how they applied different techniques.”

The women had no formal training, but their methods were similar to those used by professional chefs.

“They had no written recipes and they did not have measuring cups or spoons,” he said. “It was like magic.”

Mr Trujillo particularly loved helping them to make pupusa, El Salvador’s national dish.

“Pupusa is similar to a tortilla but thicker,” he explained. “We fill it with refried beans and cheese and pair it with pickled cabbage and tomato sauce. Our cuisine is heavily influenced by Mexico.”

When he decided to become a chef, his family were a little hesitant, unsure if there would be opportunities for him to grow in the profession in his home country.

“However, they never tried to stop me from following my dreams,” he said.

He studied at the The Pan American Academy of Culinary Arts in San Salvador.

After working in a hotel and on a cruise ship, Mr Trujillo came to Bermuda to work at the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club two years ago.

“Working in Bermuda has been beautiful,” he said. “It has changed my life, and my family’s life. Sometimes I just wake up and think it is a dream.”

His prize for the competition was a set of three knives, plus a medal. He also has a chance to compete in the International Jeunes Chefs Rôtisseurs Competition in Budapest, Hungary in October.

“I have already started researching Hungarian cuisine,” Mr Trujillo said.

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Published May 14, 2024 at 7:44 am (Updated May 14, 2024 at 6:53 am)

Pastry chef overwhelmed by cooking competition win

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