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Cream rises to the top in Havering young chef battle

Winner Melissa (middle) with the runners up and judges Paul Gayler (far left) and Matt Smith (far right) Winner Melissa (middle) with the runners up and judges Paul Gayler (far left) and Matt Smith (far right)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014
7:00 AM

Four of the most talented young chefs in Havering went head to head in a MasterChef style battle at Havering College on Thursday to find the borough’s best young cook.

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The diners perspective

Havering College were kind enough to invite me along to the final of Young Chef 2014 and I was treated to a three course meal prepared and served by students at various levels of catering education.

The first thing to say about the college is that their Jubilee Restaurant is an impressive facility, despite the fact it’s inside a college complex, as soon as you walk in you definitely get that proper restaurant feel.

Well dressed and courteous staff in a modern, minimalist environment of clean contrast interior design really gives a professional impression and sets the tone nicely for the meal.

On the menu for me was Green Risotto with green beans, peas and parsley topped with a rocket and Parmesan salad followed by a main of Marinated Salmon served with chilli and lime cous cous topped with Gaufrette potatoes, all rounded off by a lemon and ginger tart served with a ginger and orange sorbet.

The risotto starter was creamy and filling, nicely complimented by the fresh crunchy salad with shaved Parmesan and the salmon main had a real full bodied fish punch to it, cut through well by the lime citrus in the cous cous.

To finish off the lemon and ginger tart was a light refreshing end to the meal, full of sharp citrus and ginger flavours, nicely cleaning the pallet and rounding off a very enjoyable dining experience.

John Toner

The youngsters were battling it out to be crowned Havering and Brentwood Schools’ Young Chef of the Year in the Jubilee Restaurant at the Havering College Quarles Campus in Harold Hill.

After much chopping, stirring, grilling, roasting and even a little blow-torching, the coveted trophy was awarded to Melissa Davis, 15, a Year 10 pupil at Coopers’ Company and Coborn School.

Melissa said: “I was shocked at being announced as the winner, I honestly couldn’t believe it and did not expect it at all.”

“It has been a lovely experience, I found it challenging cooking under pressure but I was used top it as I have been preparing for the competition for a while.”

Contestant Casey Joiner-O'Riordan carefully preparing her dishContestant Casey Joiner-O'Riordan carefully preparing her dish

Melissa’s mum Hilary Davis, 47, said: “It’s overwhelming and amazing that she won, it’s the culmination of a whole months work. We’ll be going home to celebrate but not for long because Melissa has school in the morning!”

Supporters including teachers and family members watched the cooking action live thanks to a video link filmed by two of the college’s media students, Ali Saula and Chris Montengo.

Ms Davis said: “It was like watching big brother, there was no sound and it made us all nervous for them as they were cooking.”

Each of the contestants prepared a three course meal which was judged by celebrity chef Paul Gayler MBE and former competitor Matt Smith, 19, now a commis chef at the five star Park Lane hotel.

Judges Paul Gayler (left) and Matt Smith (right) get stuck in to some culinary offeringsJudges Paul Gayler (left) and Matt Smith (right) get stuck in to some culinary offerings

Mr Gayler said: “As a chef with more than 40 years’ experience, I do a lot of judging both here and abroad but I particularly enjoy this competition for young students.

“It is so refreshing to see these young people coming up with original and exciting dishes.

“It just shows their love for food and what they have been able to produce in very formal conditions is commendable.

“The standard of food was very high and only seven marks separated top from bottom, it was difficult but we had to choose a winner.”

In the end there can be only oneIn the end there can be only one

The Havering College competition was launched eight years ago to encourage young people to prepare and cook food, develop their knowledge and appreciation of fresh ingredients and give them a flavour for a career as a professional chef.

Supporting judge Matt Smith, now a commis chef at the five star Park Lane Hotel, is a former competitor who went on to gain his catering qualifications at Havering College.

Matt said: “It’s fantastic to be invited back into my old college as a judge I remember what it was like to be in the competition. I was every bit as nervous as these finalists.”

Runners-up Viktoria Figula-Dera, 14, Casey Joiner-O’Riordan, 15, and Eleanor Webb, 16, also received indvidual trophies.

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