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Thursday, 26 September 2013

Building for the future

If we are to have a good future in food we have to bring up a new generation of cooks. Not only for the restaurant business but good home cooks too who can serve delicious and nutritious food for healthy families.

At a time when cookery is decreasingly taught in schools, or largely consists of assembling pre-bought ingredients, it is good to see the Food Festivals taking on the challenge.

Abergavenny has a Secondary Schools Challenge - won this year by King Henry VIII School, but I will concentrate on Newport Food Festival and The Celtic Cook Off as brilliant examples.

Since its inception Newport Food Festival has run Teen Chef, in association with the City's Youth Service. Youth Clubs and organisations compete in heats over a period of around three months, with young people designing, sourcing and cooking their menus.

A semi final is held in the Market Hall in Newport a couple of weeks before the actual Food Festival with the winning teams going head to head on the day of the festival.

Whether a finalist or not each competitor will have gained knowledge and skills that will serve them well in future life.

The competition is hugely supported by Hywel Jones, Michelin Starred at Lucknam Park and a Newport boy himself. Hywel mentors and judges both the semi final and final, sharing his immense knowledge of food and kindling enthusiasm amongst the competitors.

But it goes further, the winning team go to Lucknam Park for a morning in the kitchen with Hywel and his team before having lunch in the restaurant. This year Hywel is cooking the Food Festival Supper and will have one of the winners of the first Teen Chef in his brigade on the evening. As in previous years students from Coleg Gwent will also join the brigade gaining valuable experience of prepping and cooking in a restaurant environment.

Education and training are also high on the agenda in the Celtic Cook Off. Held during, but parallel to West Cork Food Week, the Cook Off is organised at the West Cork Hotel by a small group of local producers and enthusiasts. Chefs from the six Celtic Nations and Regions cook off against each other for the title.

There is, however, a big emphasis on skills and knowledge for younger cooks.

A secondary Schools Cookery Competition takes place in the Mercy Heights School and one of the competing chefs is the judge - this year it was Welsh Chef Gareth Johns from the Wynnstay in Machynlleth. Gareth reported that the standard of cooking was high and the winners thoroughly deserved their title.

On the evening of the Cook Off last year's winning chef cooks a dinner, Gary O'Hanlon Of Viewmount House won last year, and the previous years Schools champions join the winner to prep an element of the dinner.

About to enjoy my breakfast I was delighted to see Gary with the winners poring over the recipe and order of work for their contribution, an Apricot, Date and Organic Blueberry Compote to accompany the Cheese Plate. They went into the kitchen and made the dish and a little more to spare.

On the evening of the Cook Off the two girls started the night by giving a quick demo to the 200 or so in the audience, and passed around tasters! What a great experience for 16 year olds and what a learning experience.

During the day of the competition trainees from Catering Colleges come to the hotel and have Master Classes from the competing chefs and make canapés for the audience as well as acting as Sous Chefs during prep and on the night. Again a learning opportunity for them.


Similarly to Hywel Jones inviting the winners of Teen Chef to his restaurant the winner of the Celtic Cook Off invites the Schools Competition winner.

Two great initiatives to get more young people involved with food and two which have made a real difference to young lives.

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Morphy Richards


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