Kohima: 28-year-old Tokupu Sumi won the latest edition of the Naga chef competition on Friday and walked away with a cash prize of Rs 2,00,000. 

The indigenous cooking contest entered its ninth season this year and was judged by Rovi Chasie, Alemjungla Jamir, Nuneseno Chase, and chef Joel Basumatari. Celebrity chef Gary Mehigan, one of the original judges of the Network 10 series MasterChef Australia, was the guest judge of the competition. 

“The win was a real surprise for me and I am so happy. The competition was tough and I’ve learnt so much from our experienced judges. I hope to take a step in this profession after this win,” Sumi told EastMojo

A total of seven chefs competed for the coveted title. Keneilhoubei-ü Kense and Kazusangba Jamir were declared as runners up of the competition, and were awarded with gift hampers. 

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As Naga Chef competition aspires to keep the age-old Naga recipes alive, judge Nuneseno Chase shared how the consistency of the culinary competition would soon mark a decade. 

“Naga chef is a platform for the young Nagas to understand the culture of the Nagas, as all tribes are unique. Food brings people and culture together. The youth today are more ambitious, risk takers, and have embraced the thought that this could be their profession,” Chase shared. 

She also excitedly shared how Mehigan, a world renowned chef, was able to explore Naga ingredients through the contest. She revealed that carpenter worms and spiders were introduced to the judge through the Naga chef pantry. 

Although the cooking contest is making it’s entry in the global map, participation at the competition has been declining over the years. In the first season of the contest, over 30 participants competed for the title, and this year, the number of participants dropped to a single digit. 

“I think people get scared when they are asked to cook Naga food because most people are now comfortable with cooking other cuisines. Our youth have to be proud of our culture and our food. The pantry has ingredients that show our relationship with the mountains and fields. We have observed that some of our youths are not identify ingredients or herbs,” she shared. 

In addition, judge Rovi Chase also shared that the fear of using only locally available ingredients “scare” some potential participants from competing. 

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“Naga youth seem like they are scared of competitions. There are good cooks but to be a Naga chef, they have to use Naga ingredients and this scares off some people. But we (judges) give master classes during the competition to help the young ones level up their skills,” she shared. 

Chef Joel Naga urged the need to have more Naga youth participating at the competition. “The youth should be more interested in coming forward. If there are more participants, there is more competition. When the competition begins, it is inevitable that there would be lots of challenges, but that is how aspiring chefs can develop themselves to win the title as nothing comes easy,” he said. 

To be in the profession, he said that one should be patient as it takes time to nurture the skills. He also expressed delight in being able to contribute to the culinary contest that is now gaining recognition worldwide. 

It was learned that three contestants from Eastern Nagaland backed out after the apex body of the region, Eastern Nagaland Peoples’ Organization (ENPO) resolved to abstain from participating at the festival. Another contestant was said to have backed out due to stage fright. 

The Naga chef is a platform for those who love cooking and is designed to effectively support individuals who possess genuine skills for Naga indigenous cuisine preparation, with the potential and dedication to upscale their capabilities to a higher level.

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The objective of the competition is to increase the appreciation of Nagaland’s unique indigenous cuisine and to provide a platform to entrepreneurial Naga chefs to showcase the delectable range of Naga food to the world. 

As the first culinary skills competition in Nagaland, Naga chef is organized by Synergy Group Enterprise in partnership with the Department of Tourism.

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