Battle of the chefs - The Thai-ing game

By Max Gosney

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Curry

The Thai-ing game
The Thai-ing game
The villagers of Cublington, Buckinghamshire, turned out in force at the Unicorn to cheer on their chefs in an Oriental inspired cookoff. Max Gosney...

The villagers of Cublington, Buckinghamshire, turned out in force at the Unicorn to cheer on their chefs in an Oriental inspired cookoff. Max Gosney reports.

With the cricket season long gone and the summer fête just a distant memory, the village of Cublington in Buckinghamshire embraced a new winter sport as they gathered at the Unicorn pub for the Battle of the Chefs.

Local people flocked to the pub as rumours of a cooking duel between the village's favourite pub chefs Paul Capener and Martin Major spread. By mid-afternoon a curious crowd had packed out the pub. Local entrepreneurs, toolmakers and retirees joined forces to cheer on the chefs aiming to become the Champion of Cublington.

The chefs -

Name:​ Paul Capener Age:​ 51 Position:​ Head chef Background:​ Paul has more than 35 years' experience as a chef. He has worked in hotel and restaurant positions including at the Park Lane Hotel in London and the kitchens of the Houses of Parliament. Paul, a Cublington local, was appointed as head chef at the Unicorn when current owners Meaujotug purchased the pub in March 2004. Chef fact:​ Paul has cooked for several members of the Royal family including the Duke of Edinburgh. Eye for talent:​ Paul spotted his senior sous chef at a rival operator and recruited him to the kitchens of the Unicorn. Why I will win:"I'll never live it down if I don't!"

Name:​ Martin Major. Age:​ 19. Position:​ Senior sous chef Background:​ Martin has been at the pub since August. He is studying for his NVQ 3 in Hospitality & Catering at Aylesbury College. Martin worked at the Black Boy pub in Oving, Buckinghamshire, before joining the Unicorn. Chef fact:​ Martin was a finalist in the Young Pub Chef cook-off in the PubChef Awards. He is determined to win the Battle of the Chefs. Ambition:"I ant to build up my experience and then work in London. After that, I would like to travel."Why I'll win:"Although Paul has the experience, I am enthusiastic and more modern in my approach to cooking."

Before -

Paul soaks up his new village celebrity status at the bar as he mingles with the fans. But Martin chooses to spend the final few minutes before the cook-off picking up some tips. "He's upstairs watching ReadySteady Cook,"​ jokes the head chef. The youngster appears and is ushered, with Paul, into the pub's garden whilst the mystery ingredients are prepared. The supporters take the opportunity to decide their allegiance. "It's going to be close,"​ says Doug Rhodes, a local toolmaker who sips a beer by the bar. "For a young lad, Martin is superb, though I think Paul's extra years will prove decisive." The chefs re-enter the pub and pose for photos. Pantomime season appears to have arrived at the pub as the Cublington crowd emit cheers and jeers as the duo cross knives before heading to the kitchen.

And they're off -

45 minutes to go:​ Paul, having won the toss, opts for the pork chops and tiger prawns with Tilda Thai Green Curry Sauce. "I think there's more possibilities with that set of ingredients," he says. He decides to combine his tiger prawns with a sweet and sour sauce and serve them on a bed of Tilda Jasmine Rice as a starter, while for the main, he will use the pork in a Thai green curry with Oriental spices. Martin dices a red onion and decides he will challenge Paul with a duck-based starter and a beef Thai red curry for main.

40 minutes to go:​ Martin cuts up his red pepper and potatoes as he begins to create the Thai red curry. "Thai food benefits from marinating the meat,"​ he says. "But I don't think we'll have too long for that this afternoon."​ Paul is busy preparing the lemon grass and garlic for both his tiger prawn and pork dishes.

35 minutes to go:​ The chefs appear relaxed as the cook-off hits full swing. Martin fries the diced beef on the stove while Paul mixes his pork, Tilda Thai Green Curry Sauce, lemon grass and coriander in a plastic container. "It helps to blend the flavours with the pork,"​ he says. He grills some pineapple chunks, to partner the sweet and sour sauce.

30 minutes to go:​ Martin gets to work on his duck dish, cutting his oranges in half. The young chef pours the Tilda Thai Red Curry Sauce over his sizzling beef. The stove is packed with pots and pans as the chefs boil and fry their various ingredients. Paul has begun to heat his sweet and sour sauce blended with pineapple and honey.

25 minutes to go:​ Martin eyes up the bottle of sherry on the kitchen bench: "I've not really cooked with it before but I'm going to give it a go,"​ he proclaims. The drink is poured, along with lime and orange juice, over the duck fillets as a marinade.

20 minutes to go:​ Paul has a brief moment of reflection on the cook-off experience so far. "We're going to be debating who did what and how we could have used the ingredients better in the bar after we finish,"​ he says. Martin struggles to crack his coconut with the back of a knife.

15 minutes to go:​ Martin places his marinated duck with segmented oranges and limes under the grill. Paul tends to his pork and green curry sauce whilst boiling his pak choi.

10 minutes to go:​ Paul takes time out to tease his fellow chef. "You'll never eat pork again if this dish wins,"​ he says. Martin remains focused on perfecting his Thai beef red curry as he adds some coriander to the dish.

5 minutes to go:​ The pressure builds as the chef's race against the clock. Paul prepares some spring onion, coriander and bean sprouts with lime juice as a garnish. Martin drizzles some extra sherry over the grilled duck.

1 minute to go:​ Paul is first to plate up his two dishes as he places his rice in a mould. He removes the sweet and sour tiger prawns from the stove and places them on the plate. Martin is seconds behind as he carefully builds his duck fillets into a tower on a bed of rice and drizzles with marinade.

Time's up:​ The chefs head out to the pub garden for a well-earned breather. An expectant crowd await the fruits of their labour at the pub's bar.

The results -

The judging panel comprised the Unicorn's manager Howard Gregory, retired Heinz press officer and self-proclaimed "gastronaut" Mike Sargent, and PubChef reporter Max Gosney. Dishes were rated on presentation, taste and creative use of ingredients. The judges took the limelight as they inspected the dishes before a hushed audience.

The chefs' starters came under scrutiny first and the panel was impressed with the presentation of Martin's duck fillet on Thai jasmine rice with orange, lime and sherry marinade. The flavours were also superb and the young chef had cooked the meat to perfection according to the judges.

Paul's sweet and sour tiger prawns dish was also highly commended but couldn't compete with the duck for the panel's affection. Paul's pork chop in Thai green curry sauce with pak choi and bean sprouts narrowly pipped Martin's main of beef Thai red curry with the judges praising its visual appeal and tasty sauce. But the young chef is awarded the overall victory for his supreme duck starter.

The finale -

The villagers finish snacking on the leftovers and gather for the announcement of the winner. The chefs receive a standing ovation and a huge roar of approval from the fans as they are congratulated on their efforts. A brief silence fills the room before Martin's announcement as the winner triggers another warm cheer from the locals.

The young chef becomes the first junior chef to beat his boss in the Battle of the Chefs competition and is highly pleased with the result. "I'm delighted and it proves I can do it,"​ says the 19-year-old chef. "Perhaps Paul will give me the weekend off now!"​ Paul is gracious in defeat as he sips a post-cook-off beer at the bar. "I'm really thrilled

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