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Perseverance pays off

IT may be third time lucky for many but it was pure talent and determination that saw one of Northamptonshire’s rising stars take one the county’s prestigious culinary titles after a trio of attempts.

After falling at the semi-final stage in 2016 and taking the runner-up spot in 2017, 24-year-old Arturs Dzerins from Restaurant Hibiscus in Northampton, finally beat off the challenge of four other finalists at last summer’s cook-off in the Carlsberg UK Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards to be named Booker Young Chef of the Year and has just returned from taking up his two-day prize, generously provided by category sponsor Booker Wholesale, the UK’s leading food and drink wholesaler.

Day one was spent at Soho’s prestigious Quo Vadis where he worked in the kitchens alongside Jeremy Lee, the renowned chef who is widely recognised as having made a significant contribution to London’s burgeoning restaurant scene, while day two saw him take the short trip to Corrigan’s in Mayfair, the Evening Standard’s London Restaurant of the Year when it opened in 2008, where he was put through his culinary paces by head chef Aiden McGee.

For Arturs, the opportunity to experience both kitchens at such a young age has been a massive boost to his confidence. He said: “I look quite young for my age and I was therefore prepared for the fact that they might only trust me with the pot-washing, but I was straight in at the deep end, prepping fish and helping the rest of the team with the lunch service, which was really exciting.

“I was also thrilled that both chefs took the time to chat with me and it was great that they could see I shared their sense of energy and passion for what we do, even when we were talking about vegetables I’ve never heard of.

“Plus I picked up some great practical tips, such as segmenting an orange much more time-efficiently, and I’m already using those skills back at Hibiscus.”

At last summer’s cook-off, held at Northampton College (sponsor of the Great Service Award), Arturs not only impressed those judges who’d been involved in previous years, noting how he had taken on board their comments to improve his, now excellent, hygiene, organisation and presentation skills, but also a new member of the panel, none other than Michelin-starred TV chef Atul Kocchar.

Hardly surprising then that Arturs proudly shouted ‘At last!’ when he took to the stage to receive his trophy at the 2018 Awards Dinner in November from the evening’s special guest, Thomasina Miers OBE, herself no stranger to cook-off success, having won the first series of BBC’s MasterChef.

So what words of advice does Arturs have for those who are thinking of entering this year?

“Go for it!” he said emphatically. “Not only was being involved in the competition itself an exciting process and a chance to prove my talent by doing something challenging, but the whole prize experience has been a real boost towards my long-term dream of opening my own restaurant one day – in Northamptonshire, of course!”

With the eleventh year of the competition now under way, Awards Director Rachel Mallows MBE DL is similarly encouraging others to get involved. She said: “I’ve been so impressed by Arturs’ perseverance in the awards over the years and it’s been incredibly rewarding to have witnessed how the support he has received through his involvement has helped make him the talented chef he is today.

“We’re also delighted that he had such an inspiring time at those two prestigious venues and, given the increase in publicity which success in the competition can bring, we would heartily recommended that the county’s chefs make sure they get their entry form in before the deadline later this month.”

In addition to Booker Young Chef of the Year, the Chef of the Year category (which is co-sponsored by Dawn Farms and Route 1 express couriers and aimed at chefs aged 25 and above) is offering the winner the chance to spend the day with John Williams MBE, Executive Chef at The Ritz. The closing date for both categories is 17 June.

That same date see the closure of the Independent Cafe / Tea Room category (sponsored by Pidy UK) while 24 June sees the deadline for three of the other venues categories – those of Booker Food Pub (sponsored by Booker), Restaurant of the Year (sponsored by Whitco Catering and Bakery Equipment) and World Cuisine Restaurant (sponsored by British Pepper & Spice).

Finalists in those four categories also go forward for consideration for two further titles, the Great Service Award (sponsored by Northampton College) and the new Dining For All Award, which has been introduced this year thanks to a partnership with NAB – Sight Support for Northamptonshire (Northamptonshire Association for the Blind), and which will recognise a venue which ensures a pleasurable dining experience for those with sensory impairments for whom dining out can be more challenging.

For more details, including to download the entry forms for those and all the remaining categories in the Carlsberg UK Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards 2019/20, please visit the Awards’ website – www.northamptonshirefoodanddrink.co.uk

Meanwhile to recommend your favourite pub or restaurant, or to put forward a nomination in the Independent Cafe /Tea Room or Weetabix Local Food Hero categories, contact Rachel Mallows on 01933 664437 or email

You can also follow the Awards on Twitter and Instagram at @foodawardsHQ or on Facebook at facebook.com/foodawards

To sample Arturs’ culinary talents at Restaurant Hibiscus – which has itself just been awarded an AA Rosette – call 01604 911073.

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