Top chefs compete in Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards

Aaron Melly, Phil Martin, Phil Fanning and Richard Curtis
Aaron Melly, Phil Martin, Phil Fanning and Richard Curtis

Some of the county’s finest chefs have also been battling it out to win two of the prestigious titles in this year’s Carlsberg UK Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards.

The competition, which is now in its tenth year, is again aimed at celebrating all that is great about local produce and drink, recognising excellence within the county’s dining venues and rewarding those who work so hard within the culinary sector.

The accolades being vied for were those of Booker Young Chef of the Year for Chef of the Year (sponsored by Dawn Farms) for those over 25.

The finalists competing for the senior title were:

Harvey Lockwood from Murrays at Whittlebury Hall, Whittlebury

William Mountain from Stonewalls Catering, Long Buckby

James Peck from Burnt Lemon Catering, Finedon

Samuel Squires from Hibiscus, Northampton

Grant Wentzel from The Hopping Hare, Northampton

The five, shortlisted from a record number of entries, were invited to the impressive kitchens of Northampton College to take part in a ‘Ready Steady Cook’ style challenge in which they had to put their own twist on two courses – Mrs Beeton’s Duck, Braised with Turnips followed by Northamptonshire Cheesecake – using ingredients from Awards sponsor Booker alongside their key local ingredients of rapeseed oil from Farrington Oils at Hargrave, rhubarb gin from Warner Edwards in Harrington, Healy’s of Winwick cider and beer from Nobby’s Brewing Company in Thrapston.

They also took part in a Masterchef style technical challenge, being asked to produce deep fried goujons of plaice with tartare sauce in just 15 minutes to test not only their fish handling skills but also their planning, flavouring and hygiene.

The cooking oil for that element was kindly provided by Blisworth-based organic waste recycling company Olleco and in keeping with the Awards’ green ethics, was then collected to be converted into low-carbon biodiesel.

Throughout the entire three-hour cook-off process, the quintet were watched by an expert panel of judges including Science Innovation Manager at category co-sponsor Dawn Farms, Aaron Melly, and the chef-owner of the Paris House in Woburn, Phil Fanning, who then tucked into the various and imaginative takes on the assigned dishes.

The second cook-off, also at Northampton College, saw ten of the county’s finest up and coming chefs battle it out in the semi-final of the Booker Young Chef of the Year. Like their senior counterparts, they too were provided with a basket of kitchen ingredients by category sponsor Booker as well as their local ingredient of Northamptonshire Blue cheese from Hamm Tun Fine Foods in Hannington.

With just 24 hours’ notice of the ingredients available, the dectet turned the key ingredient of smoked tofu into a wonderful array of differing dishes for the judges – everything from a mezze plate including a fake chorizo crumble, a mushroom kibbeh and a miso spiced tofu burger served with a quinoa salad, pickled vegetables and red pepper ketchup.

Those contending with the tricky but enjoyable task of choosing the finalists were Booker’s Catering Development Manager Peter Saunders and former Northampton College student Simon Dyer, who is now at Gordon Ramsey’s Michelin star London restaurant Pétrus.

Simon, who acted as a judge at last year’s final, summed up the panel’s mood; “It was amazing to see the creativity of all ten chefs and we were really impressed by the mature way in which they handled their dishes, especially as I’m sure it was a little unnerving with all of us watching!” explained Simon.

“What particularly delighted me was seeing the depth of talent that the county can boast when it comes to the chefs of the future and, as such, the shortlisting was really tough and really tasty!” he added.

The six finalists, who now go forward to compete for the Booker Young Chef of the Year title in the final cook-off in September are:

Arturs Dzerins from The Hopping Hare, Northampton

Emily Foster from Fawsley Hall Hotel and Spa, Fawsley

Deniz Gultes from Murrays at Whittlebury Hall, Whittlebury

Toby Hunt from The Sun Inn, Kislingbury

Kenny Markham from The Church Restaurant, Northampton

William Podbury from The Red Lion, Thornby

All finalists now have until Wednesday November 7 to discover their fate when the winners and runners-up in all the categories of this year’s Awards will be announced at the Awards Dinner.

For more details visit www.northamptonshirefoodanddrink.co.uk.