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Monday, 24 September 2012

Newport Food Festival Teen Chefs

One of the things that makes the Newport Food Festival stand out is the Community based approach, nowhere is this more evident  than in the Teen Chef competition.

Since May teams of chefs from the Youth Centres around Newport will have been designing and practicing dishes, all aiming to win the competition which will have its Final at the Festival.

It is really good to see youngsters learning about food and gaining skills that will last a lifetime, especially as food is being increasingly pushed off the curriculum in schools, and at a time when fast and convenience food is causing the Obesity Crisis in the UK and, indeed, the Western World.

The ability to take fresh ingredients and produce a nourishing meal is important and the competition showcases the best of this with teams having a budget of £7.50 to produce perfect plates of food.

A local boy turned Michelin Starred chef, Hywel Jones of Lucknam Park, is the Head Judge and I am delighted that a man who has held a Michelin Star since 2006 and heads up a brigade of over 30 gives up time to get involved. Hywel not only spends time judging but also mentors the teams and last year took the winners and their families to Lucknam Park for the day. The winners spent time in the kitchen with him before having a meal.

But to get to enjoy the reward the teams will have had to work hard at developing recipes, practicing and cooking under pressure conditions in heats and then a semi- final open to the public and then the final itself.

The Semi held in the Market Hall saw three heats, covering the three areas of the Newport Youth Service and 45 young cooks in action, whittled down from 150 who started the competition.

Dishes in the semis included Leek and Parmesan Risotto, Herby Salmon Burgers and Chips, Cefn Wood Pie and Potatoes, Cordon Bleu Chicken with a Tomato twist, Stuffed Peppers with a Blue Cheese Sauce and Lamb Cutlets on a bed of leek and garlic mashed potato, Whole Grain Mustard and Red Currant Gravy and Baby Carrots so wide ranging and none of them easy.

Judging was on four criteria, Fresh and Seasonal Ingredients, Taste, Presentation and Teamwork so not only did it have to look and taste good but the young people had to work together to produce the dish and also think about seasonality.

In a nice touch many of the ingredients were purchased from stalls in the Market and the stallholders were given small cards stating, for example, “Our Peppers are in Teen Chef”.

It’s these small but important links to the community that make Newport Food Festival what it is.

Anyway down to some serious cooking, and as someone who has cooked in front of audiences on a range of equipment from Calor Gas burners to Professional ranges and often suffered the consequences, it is not easy to cook on strange equipment and under full public gaze. The Teen Chefs, however coped really well, ignoring the audience and coping with ovens that worked at different rates to those they practiced on and used their 45 minutes to turn out some very good dishes.

I liked the attention to detail, such as the young girl taking each and every stalk of the Rocket, Courgettes being stuffed with Carrot and the lad who had made his own “hats” for the end of the Lamb cutlets. Even more impressive was the teamwork, each having their own task but also asking if anyone needed help, were they on track etc.

As well as Hywel Jones a second judge decided the outcome, two of the Cabinet Members from Newport City Council and the Mayor, and looking at the dishes I did not envy them, standards were very high and choices would be hard.

In the end though the winning dishes were Cefn Wood Pie for the West, Lamb Cutlets for Central and Rack of Lamb for the East and the teams will battle out the final in the Riverside at 1o’clock on 6th October.

Though there will be great chefs demonstrating and holding Masterclasses on the day, and they don’t come much better than James Summerin, Bryn Williams and Anand George, the real stars of the show will be the Teen Chefs fighting for the title and a day out at Lucknam Park. The runners up will not be forgotten either winning a “Kitchen Experience” in two of Newport’s best Restaurants The Waterloo Hotel and Vittorios.

Cooking is an essential skill and for some such as Hywel Jones it will lead to a career and recognition, all children and young people should have a chance to cook and another important element of the Newport Food Festival is the chance to learn as S4C’s Lisa Fearn who runs Pumpkin Patch Cookery School will hold two sessions to get kids involved.

If the standard of cooking shown by the Teen Chefs is anything to go by Newport has a secure place in the foodiverse, get along to the Food Festival on 6th Oct
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