IF you haven't heard of pastry chef Sanjay Dayal, you might be hearing more about him now.
Scooping the silver medal in the Pastry Chef of the Year category at the recent Moffat Salon Culinarie Fiji Chefs Competition, Sanjay has eagerly returned to the kitchen to coach his students and further polish his skills.
Master Sanjay, as he is affectionately known to his students at the Fiji National University's School of Hospitality and Tourism Studies on the Nadi Campus, started working in the kitchen when he was 16 years old while still a Vunimono High School student in Nausori.
When announced the runner up at the recent competition, the FNU pastry training assistant said he was very surprised because this was his first entry in that category.
The Pastry Chef of the Year gold medal went to Hilton's Kelera Nalewabau and the bronze was awarded to Sheraton's Kritika Goundar. "At first I was not sure if it was my name being announced. Yes, it may be a silver medal but this is a start for me. I last won a gold medal in 2002 at the chefs' competition in the dessert category," he said.
"I did not expect to finish second as I did not score a medal in one of the classes I had entered. I just kept telling myself during the week of competition to remain positive.
"But my late mother has been the inspiration and driving force behind me entering the kitchen and reaching this far. I only wish she was alive to see how far I've come.
"I know she would be very proud of me and my achievement.
"My pastry path became a sort of 'earn while you learn'. I have also worked under many chefs that I still consider early mentors. On a more personal level I still continue to learn and find inspiration. I've been lucky."
At the recent Moffat Salon Culinarie Fiji Chefs Competition, Sanjay competed in the Petit Fours, Live Cake Decorating and Live Dessert categories.
The Petit Fours category had only four competitors, while the Live Cake Decoration and Live Dessert categories had 14 competitors each.
"My masterpiece for the Petit Fours almost took me two weeks. But at the same time, while preparing I was also helping out my students who were entering into the various classes at the Moffat Salon Culinarie."
Sanjay said entering such competitions not only lifted one's skills but allowed aspiring chefs to rub shoulders with experienced players in the industry.
He said everyone faced challenges no matter what field they chose but it was up to how they would tackle the situation.
"For me the challenges were numerous.
"All this was not possible without the backing from the College of Business, Hospitality and Tourism Studies especially dean Dr Mahendra Reddy and the team at the School of Hospitality and Tourism Studies at the Nadi campus.
"Yes I will definitely come back to compete at next year's chefs' competition."
* Ana Niumataiwalu is a public relations officer with the Fiji National University.