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Chefs battle it out for taste of glory

WHILE most professional chefs endure the heat of the kitchen on a daily basis, one former local catering student has taken welcome respite from his usual Caribbean temperatures, coming back to the county to help determine the destination of one of the prestigious titles in this year’s Carlsberg UK Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards.

Simon Dyer, who learned his craft at awards category sponsor Northampton College, now works as Sir Richard Branson’s private chef on Necker Island, but was delighted to return to home territory to help judge the Booker Young Chef of the Year category aimed at budding stars aged under 25.

The cook-off, staged in the impressive kitchens of the college on Booth Lane, saw the young chefs battle it out in the semi-final, at which they had to demonstrate their culinary skills by creating a main course in just 90 minutes using a basket of general ingredients as well as their key local ingredients of stout from Phipps NBC in Northampton, sourdough from Whittlebury Bakery, smoked ham hock from Great Oxendon’s Waterloo Cottage Farm and duck eggs from Smiths Farm Shop at Chapel Brampton, all carefully selected by Simon.

Among those joining him in the tricky but enjoyable task of choosing the finalists were fellow former Northampton College student, Dean Hoddle, who has also climbed to culinary excellence, being Head Chef at Silverstone Circuit; and awards patron and former cookery school owner, Mary Laing.

Having acted as a judge in this category for the last two years, Simon said he was amazed by the increase in standards he witnessed yet again this year: “Speaking on behalf of the rest of the panel, I know we were all really blown away by the skills shown by the young chefs and I was delighted that, in choosing ingredients that I really loved, they all rose to the challenge brilliantly and created dishes that wouldn’t have been out of place in a fine-dining venue.

“None of them seemed at all nervous despite being watched by us throughout the morning and so our task was particularly hard this year but I hope that they can all take inspiration from the likes of Dean and me in seeing how far cooking can take them and indeed if any of them wants a work placement with me in the Caribbean, I’d be delighted to have them.”

The four finalists, who now go forward to compete for the Booker Young Chef of the Year title in the final cook-off in September, are (in alphabetical order):

Charlie George Garrett – The Plough, Shutlanger; Kenny Markham – The Church Restaurant, Northampton; Jack Matthews – The White Horse, Kings Sutton and David Arthur Smith – The Palmichael, Burton Latimer

Just a week later, the finalists in the Chef of the Year, co-sponsored by Dawn Farms and Route 1 express couriers and aimed at those aged 25 and over, gathered again at the college to compete in a similar Ready Steady Cook-style challenge, this time with three hours to plan, prepare and serve a two-course meal, having no prior knowledge of the ingredients. The main course was their own creation while their pudding had to be a summer berry roulade and for which they were also given the additional local ingredients of strawberries from Harpole’s Grange Farm and raspberry gin from awards category sponsors Warner’s in Harrington.

The six aiming for the senior title were (in alphabetical order):

Reece Brooks – Freelance Chef, Northampton; Seamus Bryans – Greens Restaurant at Collingtree Park Golf Club, Northampton; Michael O’Gorman – The Granary at Fawsley, Fawsley; James Peck – Burnt Lemon Catering, Finedon; Danny Tompkins – Danny Tompkins Chef, Harlestone and Richard Walker – Fawsley Hall, Fawsley

Throughout the entire process, the sextet were watched by an expert panel of judges including Aaron Melly and Lee Haines, representing category co-sponsors Dawn Farms and Route 1 express couriers respectively; Northampton College’s Head of Catering, Phil Martin; and the chef-owner of the Paris House in Woburn, Phil Fanning. The judges then tucked into the various and imaginative range of dishes produced, including a poussin pearl barley risotto and a spinach and wild mushroom risotto served with ham hock and tarragon bonbons.

The finalists in both categories now have to wait until Thursday 14 November to discover their fate, when the winners and runners-up in all the categories of this year’s awards will be announced at the Awards Dinner, taking place at Northampton’s Royal & Derngate. Tickets are now available at £120 (plus VAT) or £1,320 (plus VAT) for a table of 12.

For more details on all of the categories in this year’s competition, or for tickets, call Rachel Mallows on 01933 664437 or email or visit the Awards’ website at www.northamptonshire foodanddrink.co.uk

Meanwhile you can follow the awards on Twitter and Instagram at @foodawardsHQ or on Facebook at facebook.com/foodawards

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