Battle of the Chefs - Two Cool Cats

By Max Gosney

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Head chef Chef Killian callender

When the Merrie Harriers' chefs lined up for battle, they were nearly scuppered by a feline adversary. Max Gosney reports on a fishy incident. In...

When the Merrie Harriers' chefs lined up for battle, they were nearly scuppered by a feline adversary. Max Gosney reports on a fishy incident.

In what could potentially have been the most controversial of PubChef 's Battle of the Chefs series so far, this month's two chefs found they weren't just competing against the clock and each other.

Killian Callender, head chef at the Merrie Harriers in Cowbeech, East Sussex, and his kitchen deputy, Scott Pickett, also had to compete against the attentions of a crafty cat.

The cook-off duel was almost abandoned after a local cat pilfered key ingredients that were on display in the pub's garden ready to be photographed.

Armed with several bags of lamb's lettuce, the two chefs looked to create unique hot and cold dishes with the salad ingredient. Killian, a finalist in the Favourites category of the PubChef Awards 2004, was the favourite but he faced a tough challenge from his sous chef Scott.

The challenge

Each chef receives a box of mystery ingredients, including French Loire Valley lamb's lettuce, and is challenged to create both a hot and cold dish in 45 minutes. The chefs also have access to stock ingredients including eggs, oils and herbs.


Proprietor at the Merrie Harriers, Roger Cotton looks forward to a gripping contest at the pub. "It's going to be a close contest and I couldn't possibly call it," he says. The pub is bustling on a busy Wednesday lunchtime, though head chef and competitor Killian Callender is avoiding the strain of service before the kitchen showdown. He says: "It's my day off today so I guess I'll be a bit more relaxed than Scott."

Sous chef Scott emerges from the pub's kitchen and looks confident. "I'm looking forward to the challenge," says Scott. "I've never done anything like it before." But despite his lack of experience the sous chef expects to rise to the challenge. "Working in a small team we're used to coming up with dish ideas in a short space of time."

The chef's draw lots for their set of ingredients and the cook-off is ready to begin. But it is just as the competitors are ready to go that disaster strikes and a local mog makes off with one of the chef's swordfish steaks. Roger quickly comes to the rescue as he darts off to his local fish supplier to source some substitute tuna steaks. He returns with a batch of fresh fish and the battle of the chefs is back on.

And they're off

45 minutes to go: The chefs share a joke with kitchen hand Caroline Cutmore, who lives next to the pub, and suspects one of her two cats could have been responsible for snatching the ingredients. "They won't need feeding tonight," she jokes.

The chefs eye up their ingredients and debate recipe ideas. Killian says: "I'm thinking of using the lamb's lettuce in a filo pastry tart and deep frying the tuna in batter." Scott reveals his dish ideas. He says: "I'm going to do a lamb tagine with a lamb's lettuce and potato salad and accompany it with a goat's cheese and lamb's lettuce salad."

40 minutes to go: Scott sets about boiling his new potatoes and creates his Morrocan-style lamb tagine with red wine, garlic, rosemary and mint. Killian places his filo pastry into the moulds in preparation for his goat's cheese and lamb's lettuce tarts.

35 minutes to go: Both the chefs are setting a quick pace with Scott dicing up tomatoes ready for his goat's cheese salad. The chef also places his sesame seeds - which are to be added to the dish - in the oven. Killian chops his red onion and blends it with lamb's lettuce, coriander, parsley, egg whites, citrus juice and sesame oil mix.

30 minutes to go: Scott sprinkles a few macadamia nuts into his lamb tagine, which he is frying up on the stove. He also heads for the blender to mix white wine vinegar and English mustard for his goat's cheese salad dressing. Killian places some sliced tomatoes into his filo pastry tarts and covers it with his lamb's lettuce mix.

25 minutes to go: Killian dices his tuna steak, which he plans to deep fry. The head chef also aims to create a chive dipping sauce for the seafood snacks. Scott dices his herbs and adds them to his salad dressing mix.

20 minutes to go: Scott seems ahead of schedule as he adds some lamb's lettuce to the plate ready for the goat's cheese salad. He places his toasted sesame seeds onto a square of the goat's cheese. Killian is struggling to keep pace as he prepares to deep fry his tuna.

10 minutes to go: Scott removes his new potatoes from boiling water and adds them to a frying pan with some oil. He also adds the lamb's lettuce. Killian grills his remaining tuna steak before putting the cooked fish in the fridge to seal the flavours. He plans to make a tuna salad as his cold dish.

5 minutes to go: Scott looks like he could be recording the earliest finish ever in the history of PubChef's Battle of the Chefs. He pours some salad dressing over his grilled goat's cheese then plates up his lamb tagine with new potatoes, lamb's lettuce and asparagus. Killian refuses to be rushed as he tends to his goat's cheese and lamb's lettuce tarts in the oven. He also dices some figs and apricots for his tuna salad.

Time's up: Scott puts his feet up for the final minute having finished early. He watches as Killian plates up his hot and cold dishes with seconds to spare.

The results

The judges were Nina Lainas, account manager at Sopexa UK, representing the lamb's lettuce promotions committee in the UK, PubChef reporter Max Gosney and Matthew Brown, a journalist with the Eastbourne Herald newspaper. The experts rated the dishes on creative use of ingredients, presentation and taste.

The panel begin with the chef's cold dishes, which comprised Killian's tuna salad and Scott's goat's cheese salad. The judges praise the use of toasted sesame seeds on the goat's cheese salad and its attractive presentation. The panel are impressed by the fabulous combination of fruit, lamb's lettuce and fish in Killian's dish. The tuna has been seared to perfection according to the judges and the head chef is awarded a narrow first-round victory.

The judges turn their attention to the hot creations. Scott's lamb tagine with new potatoes, lamb's lettuce and asparagus is an instant hit with the panel, who praise its bold mix of flavours. However, Killian's deep-fried tuna and goat's cheese with lamb's lettuce tartlets score points for creativity.

In the end, the judges choose Killian as their winner and praise the chef's ability to incorporate lamb's lettuce as an innovative and central ingredient in both dishes.

The finale

The chefs wait patiently in the pub's kitchen for the result and reflect on the cook-off. "I really enjoyed it," says Scott. "I guess we're used to working quickly after experiencing busy service at the Merrie Harriers."

The duo are called through to the pub's dining room and Killian is announced the winner by Nina. He cracks a smile as he receives his winner's certificate and bottle of Champagne.

"I'm delighted to have won," says Killian. "It was a great experience and I think we both did very well." Runner-up Scott congratulates his head chef. "I had a feeling Killian was going to win particularly after snacking on his goat's cheese and lamb's lettuce tartlets in the kitchen," he says.

Killian sets his sights on taking part in future competitions, saying: "I'd love to get involved in more cook-offs as I really enjoyed it."

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