Five young Welsh chefs face an anxious wait until Thursday night to discover which of them is the new Junior Chef of Wales.
The chefs were involved in a tense final cook-off yesterday (Monday) afternoon in the curtain raiser for this year’s Welsh International Culinary Championships (WICC) at Grŵp Llandrillo Menai’s, Rhos-on-Sea campus, which end with a presentation dinner on Thursday night.
Seeking to become Wales’ top junior chef are finalists Harry Paynter-Roberts, 20, Manchester House Restaurant, Manchester; Arron Tye, 22, Carden Park Hotel, Chester; Oliver Thompson, 19, The Bull, Beaumaris; Luke Jordan, 20, who works at Slaughters Manor House, Cheltenham and Thomas Martin, 21, Holm House Hotel, Penarth.
They each cooked a three-course menu for four people in three hours, using Welsh ingredients wherever possible. Keeping a watchful eye over the finalists were the judges – Culinary Association of Wales vice president Colin Gray, Worldchefs continental director for Northern Europe Dragan Unic, Junior Culinary Team Wales manager Michael Evans, Culinary Team Wales captain Danny Burke and Nick Davies.
Paynter-Roberts, runner-up in last year’s final, served up a starter of roasted scallops, celeriac and beurre noisette followed by a main course of salt age duck breast, blackberry and baked beetroot. Dessert was quince, red wine, walnut and vanilla ice cream.
“All the dishes went out on time and I’m happy with everything,” he said. “I was a bit worried about cooking the duck because I have been working on pastry for the last 10 months, but it seems to have gone ok.”
Tye’s menu opened with a starter of pan fried Anglesey scallops and seabass fillet with tortellini, charred Welsh baby leeks, pickled onion cups, leek puree and onion broth. Main course was Rhug Estate organic pork fillet wrapped pancetta served with sage and onion sausage glazed young carrot, pot roasted savoy cabbage and orange and carrot puree. Dessert was Blodyn Aur rapeseed sponge with Gwynt y Ddraig cider apples, honeycomb tuile, loganberry cremeux and blackberry ice cream.
“Everything went according to plan and I’m happy with the dishes,” said Tye.
Martin’s dishes included a starter of seabass and crab tartare, a main course of lamb leek and celeriac and a dessert of rhubarb soufflé with ginger ice cream.
Making his competition debut, he failed to serve up his dessert on time. “The soufflé mix wasn’t good and I wasn’t prepared to serve it,” he said.
Thompson cooked a starter of pan fried Menai king scallop, cauliflower and white chocolate puree and sweet and sour vinaigrette. Main course was roast Welsh loin of venison, pommes Anna, salt baked beetroot and smoked chocolate jus. Dessert was poached mulled apple, hazelnut tuile, caramel ganache and sage and sweet wine dressing.
He said it was the first “proper” competition he had entered and everything had gone according to plan. “I liked all my dishes but I think the presentation needed more work,” he added.
Jordan’s menu opened with veal sweetbread, mushroom, cauliflower and bone marrow followed by a main course of stone bass, pickled clam, leek and dulce sauce. Dessert was honey mousse, ginger, lemon and whiskey.
“This was my first competition outside college and I managed to plate everything up at the end,” he said. “I was happy with my dishes.”
Both Tye and Paynter-Roberts will be in action again tomorrow (Wednesday) as members of the Junior Team Wales who will be taking on England in the Battle for the Dragon contest.
The Junior Chef of Wales winner will spend a three-day, all-inclusive culinary tour with Koppert Cress in Holland, which will include a masterclass from a two star Michelin chef, cooking for the company’s chief executive in a development kitchen and an introduction to new cress developments and Dutch cuisine new market trends.
The winner will also automatically qualify for the Craft Guild of Chefs’ Young National Chef of the Year contest semi-final and receive a set of engraved knives from Friedr Dick.
The four-day WICC brings together all the nation’s culinary competitions in one venue for the first time. In addition to the National and Junior Chef of Wales finals and the Battle for the Dragon contest, there will be the culinary finals of Skills Competition Wales and the Major International Regional Competition.
The growing popularity of baking, sugarcraft and cake decorating is reflected in the Cake Cymru show, which opens on Tuesday.
The Battle for the Dragon contest begins on Wednesday, with the Junior Culinary Team Wales competing against England’s junior team. Wales are first into the kitchen followed by England on Thursday, with both teams challenged to prepare and cook a three-course meal for 90 paying guests in three hours.
The Skills Competition Wales culinary finals and the Major International Regional Competition, which began yesterday and end tomorrow, are running alongside a wide range of WICC competitions for chefs and front of house staff.
The event concludes on Thursday with the prestigious National Chef of Wales final, which sees eight chefs compete in morning and afternoon heats.