Battle of the chefs - Hell for leather at Boot

By Max Gosney

- Last updated on GMT

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Hell for leather at Boot
Hell for leather at Boot
In the second of our cookoffs, two chefs duel in the kitchen of the Boot Inn armed with a pair of duck fillets. Max Gosney reports. The chefs Name:...

In the second of our cookoffs, two chefs duel in the kitchen of the Boot Inn armed with a pair of duck fillets. Max Gosney reports.

The chefs

Name:​ Alan "The Quiff" Nilsen Age:​ 36 Position:​ Head chef at Nicholl's restaurant in Bedford. Experience:​ Alan began his career in the kitchens of the Beefeater in Luton, Bedfordshire, in 1984 before leaving to become a sous chef at the Five Bells in Stanbridge, also in Bedfordshire. After a spell of cooking for guests on a private boat moored in Barcelona, Alan became Chef Tournament at Althorpe House, Northamptonshire. He left Althorpe House to become sous chef at Whittlebury Hall, Silverstone, and joined the Nicholl's Group in 2002. Chef fact:​ Alan took a break from the kitchen to join the household Calvary Guard in 1989. Why I'll win:​ "I'm naturally very creative and can think on my feet. I'm also very quick in the kitchen," says Alan

Name:​ Andy "Nipples" Wray Age:​ 37 Position:​ Nicholl's Group executive chef at the company's new site, the Russell pub in Ellesborough, Bucks. Experience:​ Started as a commis chef at the Inn on the Green, Harpenden, Herts, in 1983. Andy joined the Horse & Jockey, Dunstable, Bedfordshire, two years later and became head chef at just 19. He left the pub for the Highwayman Hotel, also in Dunstable, in 1990 before returning to pub kitchens in 1991 at the Lincoln Arms in Bedford. Andy remained at the Lincoln Arms for three years before joining the Nicholl's Group in 1994. He has been an employee ever since. Chef fact:​ Andy's believed to sport a nipple ring. Why I'll win:​ "I've got a bit more experience and I think that will count when the pressure builds," says Andy.

The Battle:​ As customers sipped their beers and grazed on lunch-time snacks at the Boot Inn, a Nicholl's pub in Soulbury, there was only one topic of conversation. It wasn't the optical deficiencies of Swiss football referees or the recent news of Tim Henman's inevitable exit from Wimbledon that dominated debate on this overcast June afternoon. Instead, the Buckinghamshire village was eagerly anticipating a cook-off duel between local chefs, Alan Nilsen and Andy Wray at their local pub.

The challenge:​ Time: Each chef must create a main course dish for two people from a box of mystery ingredients in under 45 minutes.

Before:​ Just minutes to go before the cook-off commences and bar wisdom has installed Alan as favourite to win. "I think he's very creative,"​ says one punter. "I've definitely got my money on him."​ The chefs disappear outside for one last, nerve-settling cigarette and their boss, Greg Nicholl, confesses he'll have split loyalties when the battle begins. "I'll be cheering 'Andy, Andy' then 'Alan, Alan',"​ he jokes. The chefs return and the waiting is finally over. Each competitor receives a quota of mystery ingredients and the 45-minute countdown begins...

45 minutes to go and they're off:​ The chefs are armed with notepads and pens rather than pots and pans as they sift through the ingredients and rack their brains for the perfect recipe. After close inspection, Andy is bullish about his chances: "I like to cook with duck and I've definitely got a few good ideas,"​ he says. Andy is quickest out of the blocks as he begins to prepare his dish in the kitchen while Alan continues to devise his menu.

40 minutes to go:​ The gloves are off and Andy lands the first blow with his devastating speed. He begins boiling his chopped butternut squash, which he plans to combine with coconut rice. However, Alan is fighting back as he zests his oranges to be added to the duck fillets.

35 minutes to go:​ Alan begins boiling his butternut squash and looks to prepare his rice. However, disaster strikes as the infuriated chef struggles to locate his sieve and loses precious seconds trying to find it. Andy remains ice cool as he stuffs the duck fillets with lemon grass.

30 minutes to go:​ Alan puts his sliced red peppers under the grill while Andy begins to peel his oranges. The confident chefs find time to discuss England's exit from Euro 2004 as they chop.

20 minutes to go:​ The dishes are beginning to take shape as Andy sets about creating his chickpea, feta cheese and rice risotto. Alan demonstrates his creative abilities as he makes heart-shaped roasted red peppers.

15 minutes to go:​ The temperature begins to rise as Andy sets the pace by adding his lemon-grass duck fillets to the frying pan. Alan is in hot pursuit as his orange and chilli zest fillets begin cooking a few minutes later.

10 minutes to go:​ Both chefs are frantically fighting against the clock as they chop ingredients for their salad garnish.

5 minutes to go:​ Andy begins to mould his risotto and side salad garnish on the plate. Alan checks on his duck fillets before beginning to decorate the plate with mashed butternut squash.

1 minute left:​ A supremely confident Alan adds his duck fillets to the plate and asks if he has time for a cheeky cigarette.

Time's up:​ The exhausted contestants finish in the nick of time and present their dishes for the judges' inspection.

After​ Both chefs breathe a huge sigh of relief and congratulate each other on a hard-fought battle. "If only service went that quick I'd be laughing,"​ jokes Andy. "The 45 minutes seemed to disappear in the blink of an eye," adds Alan. Both Alan and Andy prepare themselves for the judges' final decision by enjoying a pint of Kronenbourg at the bar.

The Results​The panel of judges comprised hotel chef and leisure operator Greg Nicholl; Boot Inn manageress Tina Stevens; and PubChef magazine reporter Max Gosney. The judges gave the chefs marks for timing, creative use of ingredients and taste. Andy's chickpea, feta cheese and rice risotto was a big hit with the panel while Alan scored presentation points with his heartshaped roasted peppers. Both chefs' duck breasts were succulent and full of flavour. However, Andy edged a tight contest with the added variety of his dishes, which included orange and coconut milk basmati rice.

The finale​ A delighted Andy receives his bottle of champagne and immediately praises his fellow chef. "It was very close and we both worked incredibly hard to create those dishes. I'd love to do it again," he remarks. The beaten favourite, Alan is also gracious in defeat. "The better man won,"​ he says. "I'd love to take him on in a rematch. My only comfort is that I've still got the better quiff,"​ he jokes.

Andy's recipe

Lemon grass & chilli roast duck breast, coconut & orange rice, chickpea & feta risotto.

Ingredients:​ 2 duck breasts 1 butternut squash 1 cup Tilda Easy Cook Basmati Rice 1 chilli - finely chopped 1 stick lemon grass 1 tin chickpeas 1 red onion - finely diced 2 tomatoes - skinned, deseeded and diced Shredded iceburg lettuce 1 block feta cheese 1 tin coconut milk 1 red pepper Basil

Method​Trim duck breasts and score skin. Inside the skin, place chopped chilli and chopped lemon grass - leaving to marinate for 30 minutes. Skin deseeded squash - finely chop and boil until tender. Mash and season. Drain chickpeas, place in a saucepan with diced red onion and chopped tomato flesh. Slowly cook down until tender.

Place rice, coconut milk, orange skin and piece of lemon grass in a saucepan. Cook until tender. Remove orange skin and lemon grass. Finely dice orange skin, return to rice and leave to infuse. Place duck breast into hot pan and cook until tender and pink. Remove from pan, rest for 5 minutes. Slice thinly.

To plate dish​ Using ring mould, place spoon full of squash in the bottom and top with coconut

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