Sussex Young Chef Grand Finalists and JudgesLocal Sussex ingredients were showcased at their best in the autumn menus of six superb young Sussex chefs who took part in a sizzling ‘MasterChef’ style cook off at the Amex Stadium in Brighton yesterday [Thursday 27 October]. The heat was turned up and the competition was fierce to decide the winner of the coveted title Sussex Young Chef of the Year, sponsored by Sodexo Prestige, as part of the Sussex Food and Drink Awards 2017.

Anna Shopland from The Fountain Inn in Plumpton Green; one of last year’s Grand Finalists, Michael Sutherland from The Star Inn in Alfriston and Rachel Burroughs from South Lodge Hotel in Lower Beeding, were thrilled to be presented with gold medals as they were announced as this year’s Grand Finalists.

They fought off some very tough competition as all the young chefs performed at their very best and delivered some superb menus. Silver medalists included Adam Sear from The Fox Eating and Drinking House in West Hoathly, Jose Ferreira from The Sussex Ox in Polegate and Mark Smith from The Ginger Pig in Brighton. The six chefs also received a fantastic Thermapen thermometer and goodie bag from SuperFast Thermapen®, sponsors of the Sussex Eating Experience of the Year category.

The chefs were asked to create a special three course dinner with ingredients from Sussex producers, farmers and growers, which might be served to the 400 guests at the Sussex Food and Drink Awards banquet, taking place on 1 February 2017 at the Amex Stadium. It will be at this ceremony where the overall winner of Sussex Young Chef of the Year will be presented with their winning trophy.

Malcolm Emery, Principal Chef at Sodexo Prestige headed up the judging panel and joining him for the first time this year was Great British Menu champion, Matt Gillan and Ben Dutson, Head Chef at Ascot Racecourse. They were looking at taste, presentation, market appeal and consumer trends used in the menus.   Sourcing and creativity of ingredients used, the balance and mix of the dishes as well as the workmanship and food hygiene were also considered.

Said Malcolm Emery, “Each year the standard of food these talented young chefs produce simply gets better and better and they should all feel immensely proud of their efforts today. To produce top quality dishes with a limited budget of £15 per person and in just 90 minutes is always very impressive. They all have extremely bright futures and I congratulate each of them for getting this far in this incredibly tough competition.”

Despite being the youngest chef in the competition, 22-year-old Rachel Burroughs showed incredible maturity in her attitude and skills throughout the competition. Her stunning starter of pollock, Jerusalem artichoke, wild mushroom and clams was followed by a delicious main course of local Sussex partridge, cooked to perfection. To finish she produced a sublime chocolate mousse with caramelised cobnuts accompanied by a fig grown in the gardens at South Lodge and a chocolate tuille. Said Rachel, “I just can’t believe it. So relieved its over and very excited for the awards night in February.”

Anna Shopland joins Rachel in the top three line up, proving that young women can definitely hold their own in the world of first class cooking. Her menu was beautifully presented and demonstrated perfect flavour pairing skills starting with a beetroot carpaccio and delicate Sussex sheep’s cheese mousse. This was followed by a local favourite, Sussex Smokie with her own twist on this classic dish. Showcasing one of Sussex’s biggest assets of local ale she finished with a Listers’ ale and chocolate cake with a wonderful hazelnut praline and strawberry garnish. Said Anna, “I’m totally shocked. It feels amazing though, as I was so nervous this morning. All these chefs are incredible and I just can’t even believe I even made it through to the cook off stage, so I am thrilled.”

Michael Sutherland was one of last year’s Grand Finalists and clearly impressed the judging panel again this year with another imaginative menu of mackerel served two ways with textures of cucumber, horseradish, samphire and nasturtium oil. Inspired by food from his local surroundings on the South Downs, he chose loin of venison with confit potato for his main course, marrying it perfectly with the earthy flavours of ceps, celeriac, Swiss chard, shallot and juniper jus. For dessert he served delicately poached peaches with a honey and cardamom panna cotta and granola topped with a raspberry sorbet. Said Michael, “I feel so relieved as I put my all into this year, taking home lessons learnt from last year and perfecting these new dishes ever since. I am truly passionate about sourcing everything locally and I really hope to pull it off at the awards night.”

Nationally acclaimed chef and guest judge, Matt Gillan said, “I think the Sussex Food and Drink Awards are simply great and this competition gives such a fantastic opportunity and platform for these young chefs to put their own thoughts down on paper and bring them to life.   It’s all about these chefs, their minds and their hearts and with limited opportunity to have that sense of ownership and achievement at a young age this really does have a huge impact on them.

“I’m thrilled to have been invited to be part of the judging panel this year, as I’ve worked with so many chefs that have competed over the years. I can understand it all from their point of view and how seriously they take it and that has been of huge value in terms of judging them. I have been so impressed with what I have seen today and the standard was incredibly high.”

Other categories in these sought-after awards include best Sussex eating experience, food producer, drink producer, farmer, food/farm shop, butcher, farmers market, newcomer and street food vendor.   Grand Finalists in all remaining categories will be announced in November and all the winners will be revealed on 1 February 2017 at a BAFTA-style ceremony hosted by awards patron, Sally Gunnell OBE and Danny Pike from BBC Sussex. Tickets for the ceremony are now on sale and include a spectacular seven-course Sussex produce banquet produced by Sodexo Prestige at the Amex Stadium.