I was invited to attend the first part of the Grand Final of The South West Chef Of The Year 2015 last Thursday. Upon reflection I most probably could have done some interviewing too, but I was a fly-on-the-wall, an observer with a camera.
This is an experience that foodies don’t often get to be a part of. In fact, apart from the members of the press that were wandering around observing too and Steve Haywood the pro photographer, I think I was the only blogger (as far as I knew) who had been invited along to this prestigious event. No pressure.
South West Chef of the Year is a competition like few others. Helmed by Exeter’s very own culinary guru Michael Caines, whose alma mater is Exeter College (Michael also sits on the Board of Governors and has the exemplary Michael Caines Academy based at the college too) the grand finals were the end of the a long road for the competitors involved and Eating Exeter was there to be a fly-on-the-wall to watch the kitchen mastery of three different classes.
In the Professional Class:
Dale McIntosh – Chef Patron of Merchant’s Manor in Falmouth
David Kelman – Executive Head Chef, Ellenborough Park Hotel, Cheltenham
Jamie Coleman – Head Chef, Saunton Sands Hotel, Saunton
Jamie Rogers – Head Chef, Langdon Court, Down Thomas
In the Young Professional Class:
Alexander Brownrigg – Chef De Partie, Manor House Hotel, Castle Combe.
James Mason – Sous Chef, The Salutation Inn, Topsham
Steffan Davies – Commis Chef, Gidleigh Park, Chagford.
Joshua Martin – Senior Chef De Partie, Deer Park Country House Hotel, Honiton.
Jack Sharland – Apprentice Chef, The Salutation Inn, Topsham
Jamaar House – City of Bristol College
Samantha Smith – St Katherine’s College, Somerset
Stepping in to the kitchen was quite an honour. Here were eight chefs who were all there to prove that they were the best chefs in the South West, the South West’s finest culinary talent in one vast kitchen.
Competitors were presented with their ingredients. From these ingredients they would have half an hour to compose a three course meal, that celebrated the the finest produce the South West had to offer. To quote the website:
“[Competitors] are asked to prepare a three course meal for three people using two compulsory protein elements and a choice of dessert ingredients announced one week before the final. All other ingredients will be provided in a mystery box on the day.
Upon receiving their mystery boxes, finalists will have 30 minutes to draw up their three course menu before the competition begins. Basic reference recipes can be referred to during the 30 minutes of preparation time.”
The day started for the Professionals and Young Professionals at 8:30am, they had an hour to get themselves set up, then a Judges Briefing. Then the fun started. Ingredient boxes were presented to the chefs, then they had thirty minutes to think of something to cook. During this time, press were not allowed to disturb of hassle them taking photos, this was a moment of zen that they needed in order to use all their experience and creativity to bring together something that would impress the judges.
So who was doing the judging? I saw numerous people floating about with clip boards including the following:
Peter Gorton – Gorton’s
Neil Haydock – Watergate Bay Hotel
Paul Ainsworth – Paul Ainsworth at Number 6
And of course Mr Caines himself was MC’ing the event (excuse the pun) keeping the chefs motivated and even taking time to chat to the students that were helping with conveying the dishes to the judging room.
At first, the tension in the room was palpable. Most of the chefs were involved in basic prep, chopping blanching etc. Timing was critical at each and every stage, and as observers we had to stay as far out of the way as possible.
I was lucky enough to meet Lucy Munday from the Express & Echo and Katie Pathiaki from The Staff Canteen website, who both kept me company as I pottered around the kitchen awkwardly.
Each chef moved in a slightly different way, it was almost like a dance, between chopping, wrapping, refrigerating, cooking, back to chopping, over to the ingredients table, trying to stay completely out of the way was at times a little tricky but generally I managed this relatively well.
The competitors would have to produce three plates of each course. Two for the judges and one for Steve to photograph and which was taken out to display on the table in the restaurant for display. In the restaurant anxious partners, parents and friends of the chefs waited to see their loved one come out of the kitchen.
The tension rose as soon as the plating up started. The chefs moved faster, the calm focus that had been there before turned up a notch or three. There were no dramas, no disasters, no one spilled anything, the professionalism of all competitors was unshakable.
The judging was done in secret with the results being announced at a fantastic dinner laid on at the Exeter Golf and Country Club in the evening. The full list of winners can be found here.
The winners were:
South West Chef Of The Year: Overall AND South West Professional Chef Of The Year
Jamie Rogers – Head Chef, Langdon Court, Down Thomas, Plymouth, Devon
South West Young Professional Of The Year
James Mason – Sous Chef, Salutation Inn, Topsham, Devon
South West Student Chef of the Year
Jack Sharland – Exeter College and Salutation Inn, Topsham, Devon
If you would like to use some of the photographs seen here, please contact me via the Contact page and I can provide access to the full library. These photos can be used but credit must be given to www.eatingexeter.co.uk