The heat was on and the talent was knife-sharp at the national finals of the Teflon Diamond Standard Awards' Aspiring Student Chef competition. Rosalind Mullen viewed the action
It takes some confidence to attempt a twist on Auguste Escoffier's tournedos à la Bordelaise. And when the chef attempting it is just 18 years old, it really is something worth celebrating.
So it was fitting that Westminster Kingsway College student Lily Stock was named the winner of the Aspiring Student Chef category in the Teflon Diamond Standard Awards 2019, having impressed the high-profile judges with her take on the classic.
The competition, held at Bournemouth & Poole College (B&P) on 4 February, showcased the impressive talents of eight young finalists aged between 16 and 19, but it was Stock who walked away with the £500 cash prize and a three-year Specialised Chefs Scholarship with the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts at B&P College, plus £250 worth of cookware for her college.
"This person taught us things today," said head judge Lesley Waters on presenting the award.
That's quite an endorsement from Waters, who trained under Prue Leith, is renowned for appearances on TV programmes such as Ready Steady Cook and Great Food Live, and runs her own cookery school in Dorset. She was joined by four other high-profile judges: James Golding, chef-director of the Pig Group; Simon Boyle, founder of the charity Beyond Food Foundation; Paul Dayman, tutor at B&P College; and Jacks McDonnell, head teacher at the Lesley Waters Cookery School.
e concentration in the kitchen throughout the day had won the respect of all the judges, with comments such as "it's the best-ever this year" being batted between them. A clearly impressed Waters said: "I'm blown away. The standard goes up every year because we get more applications."
The morning session had seen the students tackle two challenges. The first was a mystery fish dish. Dayman and the 2017 Aspiring Student Chef winner Joe Smith demonstrated how to cook pan-fried mackerel with vichy beetroot and horseradish crème fraîche and then the competitors had to replicate it. The second was a skills challenge observing their technique in creating mayonnaise and celeriac rémoulade.
But it was the afternoon session that gave them a chance to let their creativity shine, with two hours to prepare and cook their own twist on a classic dish of their choice.
"Some dishes they choose are more demanding, but the judges take that into consideration. They are looking at hygiene and tidiness, too," explained Christophe Baffos, director of learning at B&P College.
The atmosphere in the kitchens was cool and concentrated as the eight young chefs took control of their stoves. If anybody was unnerved about being closely observed by cameras, top chefs and TV chefs, they didn't show it.
"I shall be looking for students with the right attitude and passion for their subject," said Waters. "Originality and basic skills are essential, along with determination and flair."
Dayman, who graduated from the Specialised Chefs Scholarship 19 years ago, agreed: "It is how they work and conduct themselves. Their aptitude and determination is more important than the finished result. It is a great platform for confidence-building for young people."
Dishes included Kieran Rudolph's venison with bone marrow and Dalton Weir's chicken chasseur, but it was Stock's twist on Escoffier's tournedos Á la Bordelaise that won the day.
As Stock brought her dish through to the judges, Waters commented: "The steak is tender all the way through and it has a lovely flavour. She knew what she was doing. I have a feeling she has practised this dish."
The awards were set up in 2012 through sponsorship from Teflon non-stick coatings to act as a platform to inspire young chefs and draw them into the industry. The prize of a Specialised Chefs Scholarship is managed and delivered by the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts and B&P College, and is divided into two parts - work-based training in the kitchens of a chef member of the academy, and full-time block release at the college. Successful candidates receive a Royal Academy Diploma in Professional Cookery.
"This is a good opportunity to find talented people early on in their career," said Boyle, who is yet another former scholar. "It puts them at the top end of the market where they aspire to be. Unless you learn consistency now, you won't learn it. They need the basics, otherwise it is hard to teach them anything."
Meet the winner: Lily Stock
Eighteen-year old Lily Stock has been working in kitchens since she was 13 and is currently a student at Westminster Kingsway College, gaining practical experience at Boodle's Gentleman's Club in London.
Her success in scooping the Aspiring Student Chef award means she can now look forward to taking her place on the three-year Specialised Chefs Scholarship at B&P College, and is another step closer to achieving her goal of working for a Michelin-starred chef - and maybe one day running her own kitchen.
"I really enjoy pastry, I like the hot kitchen, fiddly canapés - I like it all. I'm passionate about it all," said Stock. "I love being in the kitchen creating new taste experiences."
Her talent and commitment were evident during the competition, particularly in the high-pressure task of preparing a classic dish with a twist. Stock chose tournedos Á la Bordelaise because of her admiration for its creator, Auguste Escoffier, whom she described as an "inspiration due to his pioneering vision of what good food should be like".
Before the competition, she explained what she wanted to achieve: "Although this dish is very classical, I found a lot of possible ways that I could add slight twists, while keeping the classical recipe present.
I think the combination of the rich taste and texture of the beef and the soft delicacy of the bone marrow alongside the salty, juicy oysters and the sharp zing of the pickled onions will offer a powerful taste sensation and a memorable meal."
On being announced the winner by head judge Lesley Waters, a beaming Stock said she was "shocked but pleased".
"Everything went to plan. I practised it," she added.
The nitty gritty
The National Finals of the Teflon Diamond Standard Awards 2019: Aspiring Student Chef, age 16-19 category
Head judge Lesley Waters
James Golding, chef-director, the Pig
Simon Boyle, founder, Beyond Food Foundation
Paul Dayman, tutor, B&P College
Jacks McDonnell, head teacher, Lesley Waters Cookery School
Lily Stock, Westminster Kingsway College
Matthew Gibbons, Loughborough College
Riley Michael, Walsall College
Kieran Rudolph, Loughborough College
Dalton Weir, Coleg Llandrillo
Oscar Groombridge, Farnborough College
Ellen Golby, Yeovil College
Faith Garey, Chancellor's School
Finlay Royle, Loughborough College
The competition is open to all students aged between 16 and 19 years old. To be selected as a finalist, applicants submit their recipe ingredients and method along with a photo of their cooked dish. To apply for the 2020 competition, visit: www.teflondsa.co.uk/competitionGet The Caterer every week on your smartphone, tablet, or even in good old-fashioned hard copy (or all three!).