High standards from Rotary Young Chef competitors

Entrants in the Rotary Young Chef Competition.

Entrants in the Rotary Young Chef Competition. - Credit: Paul Wood

The future of the food industry is very bright if the young people who took part in this year’s Rotary Young Chef Competition are anything to go by.

Fourteen talented young finalists gathered after school to cook two dishes of their choice in the professional kitchens at Oaklands College. They submitted their menu, recipes and costings (under £15 for two) to the judging panel beforehand, then cooked under the scrutiny of the judges.

I was lucky to be lead judge, working alongside Aimee Reddick, head chef at Sopwell House and Marianne Gearing, director at Thompsons. Aimee took particular note of the students' knife skills and range of techniques, as well as their ability to keep their workspace clean and tidy.

Marianne brought her experience of Michelin standard dining, with a keen palate for seasoning and professional finish. I was mostly just in awe that these students produced such excellent food, aged between 11 and 14!

Each student set their own table and brought a main course and either a starter or a pudding to the table for us to try. There were many stand-out dishes for me. I particularly enjoyed Leo's cauliflower steak with red pepper and almond sauce, and his avocado brownie served in an avocado skin, and all vegan too. He narrowly missed a podium finish due to presentation.

Zara’s macarons were exceptional; crumbly and chewy with pretty gold leaf, as good as any professional patisserie chef. We were very impressed by Millie’s beautiful menu plan, and her attractive starter of cucumber sushi rolls.

Millie's menu plan.

Millie's menu plan. - Credit: Becky Alexander

All three narrowly missed the podium positions. I think halloumi is a tricky thing to get right in a competition setting, and the chef judges favoured the meat and fish offerings on this occasion, which probably keep their moisture more.

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Aimee was very impressed by Katie’s knife skills and potato dauphinoise, and Marianne was very complimentary about Nia’s Vietnamese rolls and the presentation of her main course.

Our overall winner, who managed to combine good cooking, with a range of skills and tidy plate presentation, was Ella Male. You can see her soup with bread straws and salmon with vegetables in the photo.

Ella's winning meal.

Ella's winning meal. - Credit: Becky Alexander

In second place, Katie Foster and third, Nia Davis. The trio were awarded trophies and offered a day’s training at Oaklands College. Every finalist received a certificate and petit fours from Thompsons.

As I said to the students at the time, we were judging based on a range of criteria, including technical skills, a healthy balanced meal, presentation on the plate, and flavour, and it is incredibly tricky to get all of those things right on the day. They all did exceptionally well and I have no doubt could all go into a food career if they choose to do so.

The competition was organised by Rotary International, and Ella will now go on to represent our area in the district heat.

It is always enjoyable to visit the Stables restaurant and kitchen at Oaklands. The chef team there are always so warm and welcoming to youngsters. Their courses are rightly very popular – Mark Sharples, chef lecturer, explained that there are plans to expand the hospitality and chef training facilities to cope with the demand, which is great news.

We have all heard about the shortages in chefs in the UK and we desperately need more training opportunities for young people interested in the industry. I do hope all of our finalists continue to enjoy their cooking, whatever path they decide to take in the future.