Launched for the first time this year, we had over 40 entries for the Young Chef of the Year. Finalists gathered in the professional kitchens at Oaklands College on Saturday to prepare their starter, main course, or pudding, under the watchful eye of Andrei Lussmann, me, and Mark and Kevin, two ex-professional chefs and now lecturers at Oaklands College. And lots of parents, family, teachers, college staff and friends stayed to watch, with the occasional nervous parent wandering in to the kitchen to prod at what was cooking (they were swiftly shuffled out!).
Each chef had one hour to prepare their course, and they were judged on how well they worked, their organisation, presentation, seasonality, and how delicious the results. Andrei and I talked to the chefs as they worked, and were very impressed by how professional and together everyone was. Of course there were nerves, but Mark and Kevin were on hand to find whisks, adjust ovens, show how to use the chiller, and help whip up new pastry if needed!
After each course we went off for a judging huddle, and debated the merits of seasonal vs skills, and whether we favoured rustic over perfect presentation. There were so many highlights, but a few in no particular order: perfect macaroons, geranium leaf-infused polenta cake, hand-made tortellini and lasagne sheets, perfectly cooked seabass, hazelnut and blackberry profiteroles, bacon and chocolate brownies (that tasted delicious, honest!), home-made bread, and a light, fluffy soufflé and torte.
And the chefs were all aged 14 or 15. Yes, you read that correctly (how many of you have made your own macaroons?). The judges were delighted to see such talent and hard work in such young people; many had been practising and perfecting their recipes for weeks, and the results showed. It was very difficult to choose a winner in each category, as I would happily have finished nearly all of the dishes, but we did make a decision and each worthy winner won £100. A special mention must go to Chancellor’s School for having two winners. Headteacher David Croston commented “I’d like to congratulate all of our catering students on their cooking. To have two winners in this competition and many other strong entries is a remarkable achievement. I would like to thank our food teachers, Sally Rowe and Michaela Ware for their passion, commitment and inspiration”.
Pudding: Sadie Allan-Kerwin (15, Chancellor’s School) Chocolate torte with passionfruit sauce, and raspberries