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Their vocation is to provide schoolchildren with delicious and healthy food

More than 100 school chefs from all over the country took part in the preliminary round of the third Best School Chef Competition in Kyrgyzstan. The competition is held annually, starting in 2020, by the Social and Industrial Foodservice Institute (SIFI) of the Russian Federation in partnership with the UN World Food Program (WFP) supported by the Ministry of Education and Science of the Kyrgyz Republic. Each year there are more and more participants, similarly, the number of finalists is also increasing. In the previous two years there were five, and now there are seven participants who have qualified for the finals - the winners of the preliminary rounds from different regions.

The main goal of the competition is to celebrate the work of school chefs, as well as to draw public’s attention to the importance of healthy nutrition for children. A delicious food prepared in school kitchen contributes to the formation of a food culture in society. According to the latest study conducted by the World Food Programme in collaboration with the National Statistical Committee, malnutrition remains the main factor affecting health in the Kyrgyz Republic.

"School is more, than just a place of learning, it is a support for future community, and providing diversified hot lunches in schools gives students the chance to develop and become healthy citizens who, in turn, will have more opportunities for development of stronger community — affirms the country director of the UN WFP in the Kyrgyz Republic, Michael Haggins. — Therefore, creative approach and diligent work of school chefs is of a paramount importance in creating a better and brighter future for children".

While schoolchildren are on summer break, the staff members of school canteens, who submitted their applications, are very busy these days. At the end of June and the beginning of July in seven regions of the country preliminary rounds of the competition started and finalists were identified. In November they will all gather in Bishkek for the ultimate culinary duel to define the best in the profession.

For each area, the Chairman of the Association of Chefs of the Kyrgyz Republic, Shukhrat Sharipov - a consultant and a member of the jury, chose from the "Cookbook for School Meals" the main and the second courses that were different for each region, so that chefs would prepare dishes they do not normally cook.

"I was asked the difference between a chef from a fashionable restaurant and a school chef, and I didn’t know how to answer," admitted Shukhrat Sharipov. - Honestly, I gave it a lot of thought. Then I concluded that every day I need to feed 200 people with simple dishes. Moreover, it has to be prepared in a way that they would eat it all. There is a question whether a chef from a restaurant could work in school canteen, but I have no doubt that a more modest colleague is quite capable of surprising even the most exquisite taste."

Apart from the contest task, in each region Shukhrat Sharipov gave a workshop on cooking a number of dishes that, without any doubt, could be included in the school menu. So, chefs from Chüy and Issyk-Kul regions learned how to prepare a salad from zucchini and Azerbaijan pilaf. The contestants noted that the products used are easy to find and the preparation process of the zucchini salad is simple, expressing their willingness to prepare this dish in schools. In the Osh Region, chefs learned how to prepare the dish "Zrazy with chopped egg."

They are chipper than regular cutlets as they contain less meat and half an egg for the stuffing. During the workshop in the Jalal-Abad Region, chefs learned how to prepare tasty and no at all expensive dish without meat - spaghetti with tomatoes and basil.

Most of the participants did not have any trouble preparing assigned dishes, but there were a few incidents. So, in the Naryn Region, the contestants mastered borscht. While nobody had any luck with preparing sirniki. It turned out that none of the 10 school chefs who came to the preliminary round had ever cooked this seemingly easy to prepare dish. However, it is important to include cottage cheese and other dairy products in the children’s diet, as they provide child's body with proteins, vitamins and minerals necessary for normal growth, development and construction of the skeleton.

Apart from the taste of the dishes, the jury, which, besides Shukhrat Sharipov, included representatives from the Social and Industrial Foodservice Institute of the Russian Federation, the region observer from the Public Fund “Insan-Leilek” and parents, assessed the following criteria that are highly important for the school canteen as compliance with sanitary and hygienic standards, safety and food consumption standards.

Participants enjoyed the competition as they did not only apply their knowledge in practice, but also shared their experience with colleagues, learn how to prepare new dishes for the school menu, found out what mistakes they made when preparing dishes. Many of the chefs assured that next year they would be happy to take part in a competition like this.

According to the results of the preliminary stage, the jury determined seven finalists: Nazigul Sooronova (Jalal-Abad Region), Burmash Zhumaeva (Osh Region), Bүmayra Dandybaeva (Talas Region), Tynymbu Kulmurzaeva (Naryn Region), Maria Kurbanova (Batken Region), Aigul Akbaeva (Chüy Region), Venera Abdysheva (Issyk-Kul Region). In November, they will all gather in Bishkek to determine the best school chef of Kyrgyzstan 2022.

During the finals, they will have the opportunity to be more creative when preparing a dish assigned by the jury, and present their own unique recipe for a hot meal, at the same time it is obligatory to stay within a certain budget limits and use only the ingredients allowed for school meals. We are positive that all the finalists will succeed at this task, because as Aigul Akbaeva, one of the winners of the preliminary round and who has been working as a school chef for 17 years, said: "This is my vocation! I love children, I love my work and I put my soul into it.”