Food & Drink Chefs of the Year - Food idols

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Pub chefs from around the UK battled it out to try to win the first Food & Drink Chefs of the Year contest. Here's a taste of what happened....

Pub chefs from around the UK battled it out to try to win the first Food & Drink Chefs of the Year contest. Here's a taste of what happened.

Aflavour of pub food from around the UK was on offer at the first Food & Drink Chefs of the Year competition. Eleven pub chefs from around the UK gathered in Birmingham where they had 45 minutes to prepare and cook a main course dish in front of an audience of around 300 people. The chefs - who had been nominated through regional food groups - had to use lamb, beef, pork or veal, and put a special emphasis on using ingredients and garnishes from their region.

Nick Foster​, head chef at the Drunken Duck Inn​, in Ambleside, Cumbria, won with a dish of Langdale Herdwick Shearling lamb with watercress mash, parsnip dauphinoise, roast red onions and redcurrant glaze. "I chose the dish as all the flavours compliment each other really well,"​ he explains. "It's a really tasty dish, which uses some fantastic local produce. It also uses some vibrant colours, which work really well together."​ Nick says he has been using the Herdwick Shearling lamb for a few months on his menu. "It's fantastic quality and is sourced locally, which I'm a big supporter of."​ The meat is currently one of his favourite ingredients. "It's a really tasty meat, versatile and a great seller on the menu,"​ he points out. "I was really pleased to win the competition and enjoyed taking part,"​ he adds.

The competition, which took place at last month's Food & Drink Expo at the city's NEC, was sponsored by EBLEX (English Beef & Lamb Executive) and BPEX (British Pig Executive). Four heats were held throughout the day, with finished dishes being served up to a panel of judges for tasting. The judges marked the chefs on workmanship, presentation, taste and flavour as well as on use and knowledge of local ingredients. Judges included Ian McKerracher​, former chief executive of the Restaurant Association and a former Egon Ronay Guide inspector, Alec Howard​, managing director of culinary consultants the Food and Beverage Group, Brent Castle​, owner of the Three Crowns in Ullingswick, Herefordshire, and Jo Bruce​, editor of PubChef and the Morning Advertiser's food editor who chaired the panel.

The panel described Nick's dish as "the essence of what good pub food should be" and commented that his execution of it was one of the most comfortable they had ever seen. The judges praised the high standard of entries and gave a special mention to Paul Morgan​, chef/patron of the Hampshire Arms in Crondall, Surrey, and Phillip Nellis​ of Sam's Chophouse in Manchester. Richard Fagan​, foodservice development manager for the Meat & Livestock Commission, says all the chefs coped well with the extra pressure of an audience: "Many of the chefs taking part had not cooked in front of a live audience before, which can be a really daunting experience, but they all handled it really well. "It was also fantastic to see so many interesting and varied ideas for using regional and seasonal produce with beef, lamb and pork."

Heat 1

Kris McKie​, the Bell Inn, Alderminster, near Stratfordupon- Avon - Rack of lamb, with girolles in a liquorice jus, port wine poached pear, asparagus wrapped in pancetta and fondant potatoes

Phillip Nellis​, Sam's Chophouse, Manchester - Slow roast sticky "beef chop", with a butterbraised mustard fondant potato, creamed parsnips, winter vegetables, and natural juices

Trajan Drew​, the Appletree Country Inn, Marton, north Yorkshire - locally reared South Down lamb lavender roast cutlet, griddled liver, poached sweetbread, rosemary-infused broth, minted biscuit, crackling, wild garlic oil, Mrs Bell's Blue Cheese Croutons and vegetables

Heat 2

Paul Smith​, the Fountain Hotel, Oldwood, Worcestershire - fillet St Michael's: A 6oz fillet of Herefordshire beef, rolled in cracked black pepper and wrapped in Gloucestershire Old Spot bacon, coated in wild mushroom and red wine sauce and topped with smoked pheasant and fresh tarragon meringue

Ian Hodgson​, the Derby Arms, Thornley, Preston, Lancashire - Loin of Forest of Bowland lamb, stuffed with Mr Brown's award-winning haggis, roasted and presented on a chive-leek butter mash, with reduced red wine stock and served with roast root vegetables

Heat 3

Paul Morgan​, the Hampshire Arms, Crondall, Surrey - Fillet of beef and kidney pie: Pan-fried fillet of beef, accompanied by a mini kidney pie, wild mushrooms, baby onions, mustard mash, celeriac fondant, carrot purée, and creamed leeks

Mark Hadfield​, Bramhalls of Ashbourne, Derby - Pan-roasted fillet of Derbyshire lamb, filled with vanilla-infused dates, avocado and spring onion cannelloni, wilted baby spinach, paprika and coriander couscous and beetroot jus

Heat 4

Tom Zsigo​, the Lion Inn, Trellech, Monmouthshire, south Wales - Pork Royale: locally-reared pan-fried pork medallions sandwiched with cream cheese and walnuts, topped with leeks, cooked in wine, cream and cream cheese. Served with parsley potatoes and vegetables

James Flockhart​, the Spring Inn, Sulhampstead, near Reading, Berkshire - Lamb cutlets on spicy sweet potatoes, served with a mint and chilli salsa

Steven Prescott​, the Eagle & Child, Bispham Green, Lancashire - Lamb and wild garlic sausages on leekmashed potato, garnished with aubergine and spaghetti of leeks and purée of carrots

Overall winner​ Nick Foster has been head chef at the Drunken Duck Inn, in Barngates, Ambleside, Cumbria, for seven years. He heads up a team of eight in the pub's kitchen, which produces, on average, around 120 covers a day. Nick describes the menu as a mix of traditional and modern ideas. The pub was awarded the Good Pub Guide Cumbria Dining Pub of the Year for both 2004 and 2003. It was also Les Routiers North West Inn of the Year 2003. Nick believes in sourcing locally and many of the ingredients in his winning dish came from local producers.

The Herdwick Shearling lamb is from Eric Taylforth of Millbeck Farm, Little Langdale, Cumbria, the goat's cheese from Thornby Moor Dairy in Thursby, Cumbria, and the wholegrain mustard from Hawkshead Relish Company in Hawkshead, Cumbria. This is the first cook-off competition Nick has ever entered. He says that lamb, which he used in his winning dish, is among his favourite ingredients at the moment. Dishes on the Drunken Duck's menu have included rack of Cumbrian lamb with rosemary on beetroot, spinach, Cumbrian air-dried ham and roast potato served with redcurrant and lamb glaze, and fillet of venison marinated in cocoa, served on chestnut polenta with caramelised figs and espresso pistachio nuts.

Fish dishes that have been featured include cod fillet with baby vegetables and ginger served with trumpette de mort beurre blanc, and lemon, parsley and parmesan crusted salmon fillet with celeriac, potato and herb mash and red pepper sauce. Desserts at the pub have included espresso coffee brûlée with hazelnut shortbread, warm rhubarb and custard tart with crumble ice cream and roasted figs in port with goat's cheese ice cream and oatmeal tuilles.

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