Talent to watch out for at the Oaklands College Young Chef of the Year competition

The Oaklands College Young Chef of the Year judges with winner Amanda Garcia-Ghuran and Mayor Mohamm

The Oaklands College Young Chef of the Year judges with winner Amanda Garcia-Ghuran and Mayor Mohammad Iqbal Zia. - Credit: Archant

One of the highlights of the year for me is judging the Young Chef of the Year competition at Oaklands College. Each year, talented 14-16 year olds from St Albans, Harpenden and further afield enter a savoury dish or dessert, and finalists are chosen to cook at Oaklands College

The Oaklands College Young Chef of the Year winner Amanda Garcia-Ghuran and Mayor Mohammad Iqbal Zia

The Oaklands College Young Chef of the Year winner Amanda Garcia-Ghuran and Mayor Mohammad Iqbal Zia. - Credit: Archant

It is a great opportunity for talented cooks to show what they can do, and try working in professional kitchens. The Oaklands catering and hospitality department is set in the lovely converted Stables, and the students cook under the guidance of Martin and Mark, the chef tutors. Parents are shooed away so the young chefs have to work alone, and judges wander around the kitchens seeing how they work.

My fellow judge was group head chef of Lussmanns, Nick McGeown, and we were so impressed with the quality of the cooking and the presentation.

We both loved Romila Khan’s butter chicken with home-made naan bread, and went back for another taste; we would have been very happy to eat this in any of our local restaurants.

I also really enjoyed Aysha Saifullah’s Karahi chicken with a delicious chickpea vegetable rice with a raita; healthy and delicious and difficult to choose between the two.

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Ruby Shefras baked gluten-free cornish pasties and the pastry was excellent; chef tutor Martin commented how short the pastry was. Jenna Armstrong made a lovely ham and lentil soup with home-made bread, which we all enjoyed.

Romila won best savoury dish; I spoke to Romila afterwards – a STAGS pupil, Romila has applied to study at Oaklands and would like to continue as a chef in her future career – I think she will be a big success.

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The desserts were excellent and a tough category to judge, with a lot of discussion about technique and presentation. Jason Gyimah’s pannacotta tasted delicious, and Josh Mead’s trio of desserts was ambitious, with his lemon meringue being the stand-out on the plate. Emily Ivory made perfect profiteroles; I ate two.

The Oaklands judges, Nick and I debated over Cairo Henderson Bradshaw’s Deconstructed passionfruit cheesecake and Amanda Garcia-Ghuran’s Plated fruit salad with clotted cream rolled in coconut with meringues; we loved eating both, but felt Amanda’s presentation just pipped Cairo’s.

Cairo won runner up for his dessert, and Amanda was voted overall Young Chef of the Year for her beautiful dessert, which would not look out of place in a professional restaurant.

I spoke to Cairo and Amanda afterwards; Cairo came from Islington for the competition and at only 14 shows real flair for food. He would love to own his own restaurant and win a Michelin star; you heard of him here first! Amanda is a pupil at St Albans High School for girls and loves cooking and is also interested in a career in bio-chemistry; a talented young woman.

Students from Oaklands competed in their own category, and were challenged to cook a dish using pork or chicken. I loved meeting the students and was impressed by their confidence in the kitchen.

Our winner was Jamie Teakle for his chicken with mango and avocado salsa, which was well cooked with perfectly ripe ingredients; a nice bright lunch on a grey February weekend. Mark Sharples from Oaklands told me that the students had just been for a visit to The Shard to have lunch and tour the kitchen; the Oaklands students do go on to have great careers and I am sure Nick McGeown will keep in touch for future potential employees.

St Albans Mayor Cllr Mohammad Iqbal Zia presented the winners with their certificates. Well done to all the finalists and winners; you should all be very proud of yourselves.

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