Sussex Young Chefs Sizzle at Cook Off

Sussex Young Chef Grand Finalists, Stephanie Haywood, Michael Sutherland & Ryan Tomkinson
Battle commenced in the kitchens at the Amex Stadium in Brighton today [Thursday 29 October] as six of the county’s finest young chefs took part in a sizzling ‘MasterChef’ style cook off to decide the winner of the coveted title Sussex Young Chef of the Year, sponsored by Sodexo Prestige, as part of the Sussex Food and Drink Awards 2015/16.

Stephanie Haywood from Ockenden Manor in Cuckfield, Michael Sutherland from The Sussex Ox in Polegate and Ryan Tomkinson from The Pass at South Lodge Hotel in Lower Beeding were thrilled to be presented with gold medals as they were announced as this year’s Grand Finalists.

They fought off some very tough competition as all the young chefs performed at their very best and delivered some superb menus. Silver medalists included Dan Cotton from The Crabtree Inn in Lower Beeding, Tom Pring from The Galin in Heathfield and Alex Floyd from the Ashdown Park Hotel and Country Club.

The chefs were asked to create three courses for a special tenth anniversary menu, showcasing local Sussex producers, farmers and growers, which might be served to the 400 guests at the Sussex Food and Drink Awards banquet, taking place on 28 January 2016 at the Amex Stadium. It will be at this ceremony where the overall winner of Sussex Young Chef of the Year will be presented with their winning trophy.

The budget for the ingredients for all three courses was £15 per person and the chefs had just 90 minutes to produce two plates of each course to present to the judges. 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 at taste, presentation, market appeal and consumer trends used in the menus. Sourcing and creativity of ingredients used, the balance and mix of the dishes and the workmanship and food hygiene were also considered.

The only girl to reach the cook off, Stephanie Haywood from Ockenden Manor, comes from a farming background and her passion with working with local food producers shone through in her menu. Her stunning starter of Sussex pumpkin with honey and ricotta was followed with a delicious main course of Balcombe Estate venison teamed with celeriac, elderberry gin syrup, kale chips, wild mushrooms and truffle. For dessert she cleverly married chestnut ice cream with a chocolate ganache and crumble, meringue shards and a dusting of rosehip powder.

Michael Sutherland from the Sussex Ox has been an enthusiastic cook since he was eight when he used to make jam and sponge pudding with his Nan. He impressed the judges with his imaginative menu which started with a wonderful cured salmon with beetroot and horseradish, followed by a technically challenging ballotine of local pheasant breast with kale, celeriac, shallot and a port and red wine jus. To finish he put his own unique twist on a white chocolate and raspberry dessert.

The youngest chef in the competition, Ryan Tomkinson, was also a Grand Finalist in last year’s competition. Ryan is used to very high standards working with Matt Gillan, Head Chef at The Pass at South Lodge Hotel, who has enjoyed recent success on the BBC’s Great British Menu with his stunning goat main course served at the WI Banquet.

Matt was able to offer Ryan some top tips and his menu at the cook off clearly wowed the judges again this year. His superb fish starter told a wonderful story of sea to lake and this was followed with a stunning main using local New Barn Farm lamb with garlic and chestnut and to finish a delightful dessert of Wobblegate apples with honey and yoghurt.

Said Malcolm Emery, “We have had such an incredible day today and all these young chefs should feel immensely proud at their efforts in this competition. The standard has been simply outstanding and as ever it was extremely close in the judging with only a few points separating the top three. Congratulations to all who have taken part and I look forward to seeing all of them move forward into successful careers.”

Other categories in these sought-after awards include best Sussex eating experience, food producer, drink producer, farmer, food/farm shop, butcher, farmers market, newcomer and street food vendor. Grand Finalists in all remaining categories will be announced in November and all the winners and runners up will be revealed and receive their trophies at the glittering tenth birthday ceremony on 28 January 2016, hosted by patron to the awards, Sally Gunnell OBE and Danny Pike from BBC Sussex. Tickets are now on sale for this very special awards ceremony, which includes a spectacular seven-course Sussex produce banquet created by Sodexo Prestige at the Amex Stadium.