With the saucepans bubbling and the frying pans sizzling, some of the county’s finest chefs have been battling it out to win one of three prestigious titles in this year’s Carlsberg UK Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards.
The competition, devised by Northamptonshire Enterprise Partnership (NEP), is now in its fourth year and 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 first of the tasty trio of cook-offs was that of ‘Spice Chef of the Year’ and the finalists (all from Northampton) were (in alphabetical order):
Hao Dang of Dang’s
Ondine Hartgroves of Diner Privé Par Ondine
Bodrul Islam of Saffron
R.U. Islam of Saffron
Lalit Rawat of Red Hot World Buffet & Bar
The five were invited to the impressive kitchens of Northampton College to prepare the two-course meal that they had submitted with their entry, including chicken hariyo khursani, aromatic prawn curry, moroccan couscous and a cardamom panna cotta.
Among the judges charged with the task of choosing a winner were Ian James of category sponsor British Pepper & Spice, former European ‘Curry Chef of the Year’ Raj Mandal from Bedford College and TV Chef Sophie Grigson. For Sophie, whose most recent book is appropriately entitled ‘Spice’, the selection proved a particularly tough, albeit enjoyable, challenge. “I’ve taken part in a number of similar events over the years and while you always hear the judges say that it was a difficult decision, this one truly was! I was very impressed with all the finalists and they should each be very proud of their amazing dishes, as Northamptonshire should be of their spicy talents!”
The second cook-off, also at Northampton College, was the bid for the title of ‘Booker Chef of the Year’ and for this, the quartet were (in alphabetical order):
Jon Burns of Tollemache Arms, Harrington
Oli Butel of Frank’s Steakhouse, Northampton
Liam Goodwill of Rushton Hall, Rushton
James Ingram of Mercedes Benz AMG, Brixworth (private works restaurant)
This time, the chefs were set a ‘Ready Steady Cook’ style challenge, each being provided with a selection of store cupboard products provided by category sponsor Booker as well as their key Northamptonshire ingredients of pork from Arnold Farming, Gayton and raspberries and redcurrants picked just hours earlier from Wakefield Pick Your Own near Towcester.
The judges, which included Booker’s Regional Director Barry Richardson, BBC Radio Northampton’s News Editor Laura Cook and Steven Saunders, a Fellow Master Chef of Great Britain, watched and scored the chefs in action before tucking into the created dishes of five spice pork, slow cooked pork with basil mash, summer pudding with cherry cream and raspberry panna cotta with chocolate sorbet.
For Steven, choosing a winner proved an equally difficult decision. “The standard of the chefs, their skills and their creative abilities really stood out and it’s all the more impressive when you think that they were being watched and scrutinized with every flick of a knife or turn of a wooden spoon! It was an outstanding competition and really shows the talent that Northamptonshire has to offer.”
And the final cook-off, this time staged at Northampton College at Daventry, saw three of the finest up and coming chefs from across the county battle it out to be named ‘Young Chef of the Year’ – a category for those aged 18-25. The trio were (in alphabetical order):
Viktorija Bernataviciute of The Wig and Pen, Northampton
Ollie Jaycock of The Red Lion, Culworth
William Mountain of The Saracen’s Head, Lt. Brington
Like their senior counterparts, they too were provided with a basket of standard kitchen ingredients by sponsors Booker, with their key Northamptonshire ingredients being trout freshly caught from Ravensthorpe, local honey and again, Wakefield Pick Your Own raspberries
The trio managed to put a variety of their cooking talents to the test by serving up a wonderful array of dishes for the judges, including pan fried trout on smashed new potatoes served with beetroot and dill puree and a mushroom and lemon cappuccino, almond soufflé pudding with caramelized plums and a lime panna cotta served with a shortbread biscuit.
Those served with the tricky task of assessing their efforts were Peter Saunders from Booker, the co-founder of the Woodford-Halse based global food trends firm, thefoodpeople, Charles Banks, the reigning ‘Booker Chef of the Year’, Lee Gaskins from The Terrace Restaurant at Highgate House, Creaton and multi medal-winning international gymnast from Corby, Dan Keatings, who clearly had great admiration for the skills on display. “When you’re trying to get to the top of the tree, it doesn’t matter whether it’s sport, as it is for me, or food, it’s all about commitment and dedication.
“As a Young Northamptonshire Ambassador myself I was really impressed to see both of those qualities and many more on display in the kitchen today. It makes me very proud of my home county!” he added.
The finalists now have until 14th November to discover their fate when the winners and runners-up in all 12 categories of this year’s Awards (other than that of the ‘Northamptonshire Jubilee Breakfast’ category, already revealed as having been won by The Church Restaurant in Northampton) will be announced at the Awards Dinner taking place at The Wing Silverstone. Tickets priced at £80.00 (plus VAT) are available by calling Rachel Mallows on 01933 664437 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
There is also an opportunity to sample the finalists in the ‘Artisan Local Product/Drink of the Year’ category by visiting the Northamptonshire Food Show @ Holdenby which is taking place on 26/27th August at Holdenby House. For more details on this, and the finalists in the ‘New Local Product of the Year’ and ‘New Local Drink of the Year’ categories, please visit the Awards’ website – www.letyourselfgrow.com/foodanddrinkawards