It was Masterchef with a difference when East Coast train chefs competed to be the best at a York school. Sue Jewitt was there
Autumn term got off to a great start at York’s Manor Church of England Academy when they welcomed the five finalists of the East Coast Chef d’Fantastic competition in to their catering classrooms.
They were there to showcase the chef’s talents in a Masterchef-style cook off. I was lucky enough to join them in sampling some of their inspirational seasonal dishes.
For Manor’s catering and hospitality GCSE students the morning began with an introductory chat about the working world of train chefs, led by East Coast catering managers Ian Allinson and Sarah Creaser.
The group of 20 or so 15-year-olds eagerly got to grips with the details of a train chef’s job, discussing the use of local produce in East Coast’s menu, budgeting issues as well as practical matters such as getting hot food to customers safely on a moving train and working in limited space.
Sara from East Coast explained: “In the past we’ve hired a room from colleges for the competition, but we thought it would be really nice to tie the competition in with kids that have chosen catering as part of their GCSEs.”
The Chef d’Fantastic competition is part of a larger staff awards scheme organised by East Coast for employees, and this year’s event was held in memory of Des Welford, an employee of 25 years, who died last year.
The five finalists, Ann-Marie Beattie, Scott Ritchie, Patrick Wells, Peter Jordan and Jonathon Gray are all currently chefs in first class train services and were selected for their menu choice, food safety standards and their personal approach to their craft as demonstrated in the first round of the competition.
The finalist’s task was to cook a two-course menu in one and a half hours for a panel of judges using locally sourced ingredients and working within a limited budget.
As the competition got underway and the kitchen temperature began to rise, the chefs remained unflustered as they demonstrated their culinary flair and answered questions from small groups of students.
Nina, 15, a student at Manor and one of the judges, said: “It’s really interesting to talk to the chefs about what they’re making and how they thought up their menus.”
A wide variety of dishes were served by the chefs including vegetarian and gluten-free options. Menu choices included tarragon chicken, pork fillet with pan haggerty, chicken breast stuffed with spinach and served with whisky sauce, rhubarb and merry berry tart with Christmas pudding and almond crumble and custard to name just a few.
As the cook off ended the dishes were presented to the judges – six students along with Peter Williams, commercial director / customer services at East Coast and David Small, development chef at Real Gourmet. Without further ado we set about the task of scoring the dishes for taste, appearance and suitability for first class.
The unanimous winner of the inaugural East Coast Chef of the Year competition was Ann-Marie Beattie from Newcastle, thanks to her very tasty tarragon chicken and a dessert of Irish whiskey cream cheesecake.
Ann-Marie has worked for East Coast for seven years and had previously worked as an army chef. As well as receiving a trophy for her menu Anne Marie’s winning dishes will be included on the first class menu in the coming months.
She was delighted with the result. “I really wanted to win for Des. I really wanted to bring the trophy back up to Newcastle where Des was from,” she said. “I also think it’s about time a woman won as well.”
That’s not all that was cooked up at the event; positive links were forged between East Coast and Manor Academy as a result of the success of the competition.
Manor Academy and East Coast staff are hoping to run a similar competition for the students in the coming months and have invited Ian Allinson, Sara Creaser and David Small back to judge the food with the winning students dish to appear on the East Coast menu.
A final word from student judge Tom, aged 15. “I’ve been really impressed today. Bringing this competition to Manor shows us the sort of things we could be doing in the future.”