With the excitement of the Great British Bake Off still gripping the nation, three of the area’s most promising young chefs lined up just hours later for Eat Sheffield’s first ever Young Chef of the Year cook-off.
In the hot seat were Alfie Olinski, 21, a chef for just eight months at Losehill House Hotel, Hope; Drew Snaith, 20, sous chef at Fancie, Ecclesall Road; and Sebastien Rosh Wood, 18, who joined Graze Inn, Ecclesall Road, fresh from college.
They had each been nominated by their head chef, been awarded a place in the final and now their skills were being put to the test.
Each had been given a week to experiment with a range of magic potions supplied by sponsor MSK of Dronfield – a company that supplies special ingredients and magic potions to some of the biggest names in the business.
Now they’re in the hi-tech new kitchens of Hallam University’s Sheffield Business School – and the heat is on!
The chefs have half an hour to decide what to cook, then they’re on their own for two hours .
Watching them is Michelin-starred chef Rupert Rowley of Fischer’s, who’s on hand in the role of mentor, and the judges: Norman Dinsdale of Hallam University; Vicky Endersen, molecular gastronomy wizard from MSK; and me, the Mel or possibly Sue of the event.
The challenge is to create a dish using at least eight items from a basket of mystery ingredients.
The wraps come off and the contents are revealed: a pigeon, goat’s cheese, chocolate, elderberries, hazelnuts, celeriac, salsify, pak choi, beetroot and Baileys liqueur.
We retire to the corner with the anxious head chefs who have nominated their charges.
Centre stage there’s an air of studied concentration as the cook-off gets under way with a general buzz of chopping, frying, melting and poaching…
Delicious smells begin to waft inour direction as nerves settle, confidence builds and the young chefs get into their stride.
The artistry takes shape, but it’s not all plain sailing. At one station there’s a case of burnt hazelnuts; at another, plans for a chocolate fondant have to be abandoned as time runs out.
The two hours fly by and all too soon the chefs are called to present their work.
All three have used the pigeon – and made a pretty good job of it.
Alfie’s dish features succulent breast with pear purée, celeriac mash and a sliver of beetroot jelly, wrapped cannelloni-style around the goat’s cheese.
Sebastien has produced melt-in-the-mouth pan-fried breast with an elderberry sauce, celeriac purée, glazed beetroot, pak choi and hazelnut snow.
But the clear winner is Drew, who has conjured up pigeon breast, confit leg, pear gel, elderberry jus and celeriac fondant with salsify crisps… along with dark chocolate mousse with a white chocolate liquid centre and hazelnut crumble .
“He’s a phenomenal chef,” says mentor John Parsons, who first met Drew when, at the age of 16, he pestered him daily for the chance to work alongside him.
Drew later headed south, working for top chefs including Raymond Blanc, Gordon Ramsay and Sat Baines before returning to join John at Fancie.
After receiving his award at Monday’s gala dinner, Drew said: “I owe everything to John. He’s taught me about cooking and about myself. Now I’ve won this – it’s amazing. What can I say?”