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The Parliamentary Pub Chef of the Year Competition - The ‘Cook-Off’

On 26/01/18 by Brigid Simmonds (Chief Executive)

The BBPA organised its first Parliamentary Pub Chef of the Year competition two years ago with the support of Nestle and under the auspices of the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group. Having expected 30 or so entries, we were rather amazed to receive over 100. Two years on and clearly we had struck a cord with MPs as this year we have over 130 entries from across the UK.

Pub chefs are a shortage occupation in our industry and we are working hard with colleges and schools to try and change this. Our film, which can be found here shows what an exciting career you can create as a pub chef and if you are an entrepreneur, you can be running your own business in a pub at a relatively early age.

Fast forward to 2018 and with the help of an expert panel of judges in Paul Dickinson, Director of Food at Fuller’s; Andrej Prokes, Executive Chef at Nestlé Professional; Kate Hempsall, consultant to the beer and pub trade; and Dawn Redman, Director at Hospitality Jobs UK, we were down to 8 finalists. They were then invited to the ‘cook-off’ at Hospitality House in north London on 24th January. I love cooking (but in no way would qualify as a professional), so it was a great treat to be asked to be a judge on the day. We were also joined by Mike Wood MP, who is Chairman of the Beer Group, Paul Merret the television chef, Roger Rahaman a chef from Nestlé and Ashley McCarthy who is owner and chef from The Sun Inn in Colton near York.

So, first it was the turn of the young pub chefs each of which were invited to tell us a little bit about themselves. Amy Houghton was nominated by Craig Whittaker, MP for Calder Valley. She cooks at the Shoulder of Mutton in Hebden Bridge. Amy first took a fine arts degree, but after a year and a very good experience of cooking decided to change tack and take a catering degree which included not only cooking but customer service too. Ben Morgan cooks for Fuller’s at the Plough Inn in Ealing. He is the head chef with four and a half years experience as a manager and was nominated by Victoria Sharma MP for Ealing and Southall. Gordon Stott was the only shortlisted chef this year who was also shortlisted two years ago. He was nominated by Kit Malthouse MP for North West Hampshire and works at the Sun Inn in Dummer near Basingstoke, which has 20 bedrooms; his objective to earn a Michelin star and finally in this category Michael di Bella who is half Italian is head chef at the Dean Inn, West Dean near Chichester and was nominated by his MP, Gillian Keegan. All were excellent in talking about fresh local food; Michael told us of his experience of exchanging 24 bottles of beer for game!

Both categories were offered the same ingredients. They knew what they had to cook with in advance, but only had an hour on the day to complete their dish of choice. Venison, guinea fowl, brill, razor clams were combined with mouthwatering variations from exotic mushrooms, beetroot, butternut squash, blackberries, lemons and shallots to name but a few.

In the second category we had Kevin McLean of the Rat Inn in Anick nominated by the MP for Hexham, Guy Opperman. Kevin trained at the Three Chimneys on Sky and worked there for many years before moving slightly further south. We asked each chef what was their favourite season. Several named autumn, but often the answer was the next one! There is only so much you can do with strawberries or beetroot and soon want to move on to the next season’s delicacies. Craig Jeffrey cooks at the Ship Inn near Padstow. He was nominated by Scott Mann, MP for North Cornwall. His specialities included kidney broth and kedgeree. He also described inviting local school children to design a healthy eating dish which then featured on the pub’s menu. Ryan Lamb was nominated by Caroline Nokes MP for Romsey and Southampton North who is now the Minister at the Home Office responsible for migration. Ryan cooks at the Tally Ho in Stockbridge near Romsey. He described his food and pub classics with a French twist. He has recently developed a twice baked cheese soufflé which will be sold through a supermarket, ready to cook at home. Finally in this category was Oli Farrar of the Durham Ox in Crayke, nominated by Kevin Hollinrake, MP for Thirsk and Malton. Oli worked in London for some years, but wanted to go back to his roots and give back time to training others. He admitted that foie gras did not quite work in his pub, but his mantra was simple pub food which has to be the best it can be.

It was inspiring, exciting, nerve-racking, but a wonderful afternoon and so good for all of us in the industry who care so much about the quality of food now offered in pubs to see such a high standard set; much higher than we had seen two years ago. Who will win, well you will have to wait and see. Both pub chef and young pub chef winners will be announced and presented at a ceremony in the Houses of Parliament on 7th February.


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