Stamford's star chefs with Dilmah's owners at the Dilmah High Tea Challenge

 The Langham, Sydney was abuzz with excitement as the winners of the Dilmah Real High Tea Challenge 2012 were announced at the special ‘Chari-tea’ event held on September 12.

The triumphant team including Doddy Lesmana and Michael Nicolaou from Novotel Sydney on Darling Harbour beat 42 other entrants in the Professional Edition of the competition to take the coveted top spot.

Dilmah – the finest single-origin Ceylon tea – launched the Dilmah Real High Tea Challenge with the objective of putting the ‘tea’ back in high tea. Now in its second year, the challenge brings into focus the versatility of tea as a beverage and a modern culinary ingredient. This year’s search for the most contemporary Australian high tea saw contestants from five states battle it out for the winner’s title.

In addition to the industry accolade they’ve secured for themselves, the winners will get the chance to visit Sri Lanka – the home of Dilmah tea. As guests of the Fernando family, they will get a unique perspective of the country and its tea culture during their stay at the luxurious Ceylon Tea Trails bungalows set amidst the beautiful tea gardens, and learn to perfect the art of brewing a great ‘Cuppa’ at the internationally recognized Dilmah School of Tea.

With a 200 per cent increase in entries from last year and intense interstate rivalry, choosing a winner was a tough task for the judges. The illustrious panel of judges, which consisted of Black Hat Chef Bernd Uber, the celebrity chef Peter Kuruvita and Dilhan C. Fernando – the son of Dilmah’s founder Merrill J Fernando, had the unenviable task of selecting a single winning team.

“The inaugural Real High Tea Challenge set the bar extremely high, so as judges we expected a lot from the contestants – especially in the professional category,” Uber said.

“What we experienced this year was a more in-depth knowledge about tea, a wider variety of brewing methods and culinary techniques being used which overall led to much greater creativity. The winning team stood out for the judges because each dish represented a true reflection of a contemporary high tea.”

Doddy Lesmana and Michael Nicolaou impressed the judges with a winning menu that included items such as Candied Spiced Pickled Fruit and Vegetable Salad, accompanied with strawberry, watermelon & Persian fetta macaroon and Dilmah t-Series Brilliant Breakfast Tea. As well as Quail Breast Poached in Ceylon Tea, accompanied with candied watermelon rind candied olives and rose jelly paired with Dilmah t-series Rose and French Vanilla and Sparkling Water.

Doddy Lesmana is Novotel Sydney on Darling Harbour’s Food and Beverage Supervisor and has been with the company for only four months.

Michael Nicolaou is the Executive Sous Chef at Novotel Sydney on Darling Harbour. Previously, Nicolaou worked at hatted restaurants and was a consultant chef for Emirates in Dubai. Michael competed in the Dilmah Real High Tea Challenge last year and was awarded a bronze medal. Over the past twelve months he has spent time perfecting his technique and finding new ways to cook with tea to create the winning menu.

“My late grandfather was my main inspiration. He used to cook with and serve tea in the Middle East. As a result my winning menu was very much an eclectic flavour of Middle Eastern ingredients,” Nicolaou said.

Also impressing were chefs from Stamford Hotels and Resorts across Australia, with wins of gold, silver and bronze in the High Tea Challenge.

Stamford Plaza Adelaide and Stamford Plaza Brisbane were awarded gold, Stamford Grand Adelaide and Stamford Plaza Sydney Airport picked up silver, and Stamford Plaza Melbourne scooped a bronze in the competition that was held in each state.
The award winning team from Brisbane, led by Pastry Chef Grant Turner incorporated the tea varieties into the food served on a stand designed like a tree branch creating a whimsical effect. Chef Turner took into consideration the affects of recent local floods and where possible supported those suppliers.
Stamford Plaza Adelaide led by pastry chef Simon Nield, presented a modern bold concept by interpreting what is usually recognised as traditionally feminine affair to one that is bold, innovative and creative, reinforcing the change in tea preferences that is now enjoyed by male and female, young and old.  The stand was built with mirrors and supported by Dilmah’s teas cups filled with tea.
“We are so proud of these awards as we were up against strong competition in every state but it all came back to our committed and passionate staff who delivered an outstanding and imaginative high tea,” said Stamford Deputy CEO, Jon Foo.

Entries for next year’s Dilmah Real High Tea Challenge will open in May 2013. Please visit for further information.

James Wilkinson

Editor-In-Chief, Hotel Management

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