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Success for Talented Young  Chefs
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Success for Talented Young Chefs

Four up and coming young chefs traveled to London to compete in a national final

Breakfast done and bloodshot eyes now clearing I entered the venue at opening time, with a full programme of competitions that day, the young chefs were already underway as the show opened. It made my sad heart glad (just a saying!) to see our four young chefs grouped together on stations 4, 5, 6 and 7. Not that it made any difference to them as they were entirely focused on their own efforts and rightly so, it just made it easier for us to watch them all! I spotted long time friend and Art School Chef Patron Paul Askew in front of Daniela’s pod and went to say hello. I could write paragraphs about Paul, pages and pages in fact about our respective and intertwined journeys. Safe to say he has been a constant throughout the life of NW Young Chef as a supporter, judge and mentor. After years and years of hard work, his restaurant has become a magnet for awards and success. Now, whilst Lord Askew is obviously routing for his own candidate, like me he is super supportive of emerging talent and knows the fab four intimately and fills me in on the first 30 minutes of their progress.

Family, friends and mentors are already there but as the morning progresses the benches fill up with even more supporters & spectators. Precise preparation takes place, cooking happens and problems are evaluated, adjustments made and overcome as is a Chefs duty. The dishes are presented and displayed for us the viewing public to ponder and make our call…a completely pointless exercise!! We haven’t been privy to the way the chefs work, their rationale in putting the dish together, their techniques, skills and methodology and most importantly how the dish tastes. But nevertheless we try to imagine the ‘eating’ of the dish.

TIMES UP. That’s it they are done. Well, apart from one whose station suffered a soul destroying power cut in the last 10 minutes. Any conscientious cook will tell you this is the main aim of their day, those few precious minutes when they can present to you their best work, their craft, their flavours and textures. It’s heart wrenching enough in a restaurant on a nightly basis, let alone in a 2 hour National final and it shows on the Chefs face. Just moments away from presenting their finest work and it collapses around them through lack of electricity, they search and scramble for a solution whilst holding back the tears and emotion. They had taken a risk, as you must do from time to time to create that gap between first and second.

Browsing the 30 dishes we try to imagine the flavour and texture combinations in the vain hope that we can pull out the winner, some dishes help us out as the odd item looks just that bit under or overcooked. On others the proportions look a little out or perhaps they lack a sauce to pull everything together, there are actually 30 fantastic plates of food on show and it’s just a critical judge’s eye trying to separate them out.

There’s several hours of waiting now, time for me to look around the show, have a few meetings and cradle the obligatory beer – well we are in the Hospitality business after all.

As the dust settles and the Young Chefs emerge from behind the scenes, replaying the last few hours time and time again, reliving every knife stroke and mentally tasting everything again in front of their families and mentors. As we talk one phrase is repeated ‘one of us must have done it for the North West.’  It surprises me a bit, but it shouldn’t do. Of course each individual Chef would want to win the title but collectively over the last few years through competition, master classes and shared experiences they have formed a bond. Unconsciously, they have pushed each other, they have made each other better Chefs and there’s a friendship and healthy respect between them.

Mr.’s all coming back to me now! My long time friend and accomplished Chef Stephen Taylor and I pretty much began our competition years together. At each event we would kind of groan when we realised we had entered the same category as we put our ‘static’ dishes on the table. Static dishes being cold displayed dishes, as opposed to ‘live’ cooking tasted on the spot. I’d spend months planning them, weeks creating moulds, shapes, patterns and flows then hours and hours creating mousses, textures & colours before precision slicing, dipping and burning off the pieces to present to the judges. Then up rocks Stephen bloody Taylor with his genial work. At each event we’d evaluate each other’s work to try to second guess the judges to see which of us would pip the other this time around. He made me a better Chef.

Anyway, back in the 21st century the YNCOTY results were looming as the great and the good assembled. It’s a wonder anyone got fed in the country that day there were so many renowned chefs there.

To add to the intrigue & the wait they decided to announce the placings by first reading out the Chefs menu…little tinkers. As the third place menu was read out it became apparent that it was Toms, well done Tom for coming in the top three at your first national final. At this level it’s fine, fine margins and he wouldn’t have been far away from the top place I’m guessing.

Onto second place and once again the menu started to sound familiar as Arthur allowed himself a wry smile and scooped the runner up slot. At 21 he is already a veteran high achieving competitor.

So our Region has taken 2 of the top 3 slots, you can’t help but try and compute the dishes you briefly looked at hours ago to see if they just might be the ones that take the title. Daniela showed her usual consistency and exquisite presentation throughout the three courses and Danny remarkable technical skill and attention to detail. There was also the small matter of six other talented Chefs from the UK to consider.

I’m stood behind Danny’s family as the menu is read out ‘Is it Danny’s?’ They whisper in hope ‘It is….it’s our Dannys. He’s done it!!’ From behind I could see the tension fall away from his Mums body as the news sank in, followed by that kind of strange ‘get this spider off me’ type of dance with the excitement. Bloody well done Mr.Young!

His mum, Kate span around and tried to make a phone call, a pointless exercise she was shaking that much with pride. ‘Did you know?’ she asked as if accusing me of putting her through the torture of waiting. Of course I didn’t. On stage Danny was being interviewed- another pointless exercise. He was that tired and emotional all that was coming through the speakers was a deep Lancastrian muffle punctuated with the odd high pitched noise of surprise making no sense whatsoever! Don’t confuse it with the lovely interview attached to this piece.

As the kerfuffle subsided there was still the small matter of the people’s choice dish, a competition that ran during the day on social media for people to choose the most stunning looking dish. Now, the North West has just taken first, second and third in the National final…I couldn’t allow myself to think the impossible…could I? I tried not to, but that little inner Chef with horns on his head and trident in hand kept prodding me.

Daniela’s family whooped and cheered loudly as her name was read out as the people’s choice champion for her outstanding presentation & skill. What an unbelievable result for the four Chefs.

Lucy appeared from the crowd – as usual phone in hand tweeting and posting away the news & bursting with pride. Lucy is the glue that holds the competition together, without Lucy competitors wouldn’t compete, judges wouldn’t judge and we share the same angst year on year attracting entries; plus on top of that she puts up with my moans and rants.

Of course, Lucy too was pleased as punch the last few moments had made all those frustrations and challenges worthwhile. We know why we do it but this had just underlined it.

Young Chefs of the North West take a bow. We are now open for 2018 entries.




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