Well known for hosting many a hard fought battle on the pitch, the Amex Stadium in Brighton moved play inside to the kitchens on Tuesday 29 October, as six of Sussex’s finest young chefs took part in a sizzling cook off to win the coveted prize of Sussex Young Chef of the Year award, sponsored by Sodexo Prestige, as part of the Sussex Food and Drink Awards 2013/14.
The contestants were Nick Bennet from The Curlew Restaurant in Bodium, Adam Gibbs from The Coach and Horses in Danehill, Perry Foord from Deans Place Hotel in Alfriston, Ricki Weston from South Lodge Hotel in Lower Beeding and from Brighton & Hove, Joseph Otway from The Ginger Pig and James McGarry from L’Église. 
The chefs, who were nominated by public vote and then shortlisted from their written application, had to prepare and produce a full three-course menu based on seasonal, locally sourced Sussex ingredients in only 90 minutes.   They were asked to create a menu that would be suitable to serve at a gala dinner to local dignitaries in celebration of the Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club being chosen to host some matches for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
The judging panel, Sodexo Prestige’s Principal Chef, Malcolm Emery and Craft & Food Development Director, David Mulcahy, along with Leroy Clarke from City College Brighton & Hove’s Catering Department, were looking for innovation and the sourcing of ingredients in this final stage of the competition.  However, also of great importance was the taste, presentation, creativity, saleability and consumer appeal of their menus and after much deliberation on the part of the judging panel the three grand finalists were agreed as follows:
Twenty three year old Joseph Otway from The Ginger Pig in Brighton & Hove is an ambitious young chef and his passion for perfecting new techniques was apparent throughout his menu.  The judging panel applauded the bold flavours he used in the combination of his hot and cold line caught, Sussex mackerel starter.  This was followed by roast crown and crispy stuffed leg of wild partridge with blackberry dressing and a classic pear tarte tatin to finish, with prune and Armagnac ice cream and dark butterscotch sauce.
Twenty five year old, Nick Bennet from The Curlew Restaurant in Bodium, East Sussex is one of the youngest serving Sous Chefs working in a Michelin starred restaurant in the UK and his boundless energy and enthusiasm prevailed in the final menu that he delivered in the cook off.  He started with Rye Bay scallops with a butternut squash and Olde Sussex cheddar garnish, followed by loin of venison with spiced blackberries.  His poached and roasted Sussex Pear was hailed as an amazing dessert with one judge saying ‘I would like to sell this in my restaurant!’
Twenty one year old, Ricki Weston from South Lodge Hotel in Lower Beeding, West Sussex has an eye for detail and this was certainly a factor that got the judges attention in this competition.  Creating stunning plates of food, his fantastic starter of perfectly cooked mackerel with a beetroot, horseradish and pear garnish got him off to a great start.  He chose South Downs Game venison to follow, served with parsnip, purple carrot and a dark chocolate sauce.  To finish, he prepared a delightful spiced sponge with apple, caramel and pistachio nuts.
Said Malcolm Emery, Principal Chef at Sodexo Prestige, “We have been so impressed with the standard of cooking in this competition as well as the professionalism shown by all six chefs.  All the menus produced were of outstanding quality and to choose just three was a difficult challenge for all the judges.  I am delighted for the winners today, but I shall be watching the careers of all these chefs with interest and have no doubt that they will all be hugely successful in the future.”

Other categories in these sought-after awards include best Sussex eating experience, food producer, drink producer, farmer, food/farm shop, butcher and farmers market.   Grand Finalists will be announced later this month and winners and runners up will be revealed at the ‘Sussex foodie event of the year’, the Sussex Food & Drink Awards Banquet, at the Amex Stadium on 30th January 2014, hosted by patron of the awards Sally Gunnell and Danny Pike from BBC Sussex.  Tickets for the superb, seven course Sussex feast and awards ceremony are now on sale.  To find out more visit www.sussexfoodawards.biz