It was an absolute pleasure to help judge the Young Chef of the Year competition on Saturday. Now in its second year, this competition is a wonderful opportunity for talented 13-16 year olds to cook in a professional kitchen and showcase their food. We had almost double the entries from last year and a shortlist of finalists was chosen for the cook-off on Saturday. As the young chefs were taken through the rules and set out their ingredients, anxious families waited and resisted the urge to help. There was a category for starter, main course and pus, with each having an hour to produce their final dish ready for tasting by the judges.
Held in the new stableyard training kitchens at Oaklands College, the finalists were among the first to cook in the new facilities. Each had a very smart work station with immaculate equipment, with light flooding in through the huge arched windows. Chefs Mark Sharples, Paul Wood and Ian Fitzgerald from the college were on hand to help use the equipment and to observe how well the finalists worked; points were awarded for a clean and well-organised work station (good training for back at home!).
Our hard-working super-Mayor Annie Brewster talked to the finalists and told me how delighted she was by the enthusiasm and stories behind the recipes and ingredients. I was really impressed by how many students brought in home-grown produce and baked their own bread to go with their dishes. The students were calm and professional and had obviously practised hard.
My fellow judges were Andrei Lussmann, owner of Lussmanns and Johnny Shepherd who owns The Pudding Stop and was a former finalist on The Great British Bake-off. Andrei and Johnny were very impressed by the young chefs; Johnny observed the pastry chefs and noted that one finalist used carbonated water to help his bread rise in the limited time.
The dishes were carried to the judging area and the chefs and parents waited in the pretty courtyard area for the results, with quite a few peaking through the windows to see what was happening!
The starters were amazing this year. Sam Bailey (15, Onslow St Audrey’s school) won for the second year with a delicious Goats Cheese soufflé with Apple and Walnut salad. The soufflé rose beautifully and I was delighted to see seasonal ingredients in the salad. Sam is a dedicated and focussed chef – I am sure if he chooses to work in food he will do well. Kate Symmons was awarded Highly Commended for her starter of Gingered Crab with Plaice and Rhubarb Sauce. Kate’s combination of flavours and textures was well-thought through and the crab and plaice were cooked perfectly. Kate is one to watch.
We had a very tough job with the main courses as so many were excellent. Andrei and I loved the Paella by Alex Burnett which cold have served 20 – Andrei commented that he would be quite happy to eat a box of this walking through Borough Market. The winner was Emily Rigby (13, St John Lawes school) who cooked a perfect Salmon Leek and Sweetcorn quiche. The judges agreed that whereas some of the other dishes had more of a wow factor, the quiche was quite simply delicious, and exactly what you want it to be. The pastry was perfect and the filling was cooked well and was the right proportion to pastry. As Andrei said “sometime simple done well is really the best”. Emily also scored very well on her preparation and calm cooking methods. Highly Commendeds went to Connor Hagger for his Hunters Chicken with Dauphinoise potatoes; we particularly enjoyed the onion marmalade he made to go with it. Nicole Sullivan presented a beautiful plate of Seabream with Mash and Petis Pois. Her fish was cooked perfectly, but it was a tough final!
Johnny was our expert for the puds, of course, but we all tried them in the name of dedication. Chancellor’s School won both first prize and a Highly Commended, showing just what a talented Home Economics teacher can achieve! Mollie Swain’s Lemon Meringue tarts had melting pastry and beautifully piped meringue on top. A well-deserved win. Jessica Boyd’s tiny Elderflower Jellies to go with her Mousse were outstanding. Tommy Molnar’s Chocolate Cake was yummy and was demolished by the judges which is always a good sign. Johnny commented that Ranya El Mansouri’s Tiramisu was far better than one he had eaten that week at a well-known Italian chain in town.
Mayor Annie Brewster presented certificates to all the finalists and winners to huge applause from everyone watching. Johnny is in the process of opening The Pudding Stop shop and offered all the finalists work experience in his bakery; which I think most of them want to take him up on! Andrei invited the three winners and their families to eat at Lussmann’s; I think he may have some future chefs in mind to work for him!
Well done to Oaklands for organising such a terrific event. One of last year’s winners is now training at Oaklands, where you can now train up to VRQ Level 3 in Professional Cookery as well as BTEC Level 3 in Hospitality. In a few weeks you will be able to go in to the restaurant and try what the chefs cook and serve each day. This is where the stars of the future are going to train; I look forward to hearing how they get on.