Tomorrow’s talent

St Albans Young Chef of the Year competition

St Albans Young Chef of the Year competition - Credit: Archant

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 to 16 year olds to cook in a professional kitchen and showcase their food.

We had almost double the entries compared to last year and a shortlist of finalists was chosen for the cook-off.

There was a category for starter, main course and puds, with an hour to produce the 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.

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 Mayor Annie Brewster talked to the finalists and told me how delighted she was by the enthusiasm and stories behind the recipes and ingredients.

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 and both were very impressed. Johnny noted one finalist used carbonated water to help his bread rise in the limited time.

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.

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Kate Symmons was 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 could have served 20 – Andrei said he would be quite happy to eat a box of this walking through Borough Market.

The winner was Emily Rigby (13, Sir 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 sea bream 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 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.

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.

For more of Sue McKinnon’s photos from the Young Chef of the Year competition visit Becky’s section on our website at