Cook off triumph “Ekes” out Young Chef title for Sam

A young chef from Bedlington is celebrating after being crowned The Inn Collection Group’s Young Chef of the Year for 2023, after triumphing in a competitive cook off at the Hospitality.Innovation.Tourism.Supply (HITS) Expo.

A member of the kitchen team at Blyth’s The Commissioners Quay Inn, Sam Eke wowed a judging panel of professional chefs with a roast lamb rump served with a celeriac puree, red wine jus and chantenay carrots.

Cooked to perfection and elegantly presented following an hour’s cooking time the youngster was praised for the flavour of his dish, which The Inn Collection Group customers will get to sample themselves later in the year.

Winning out against four fellow talented gastronomes from Alnwick’s The Hog’s Head Inn, Durham’s The Kingslodge Inn and Sunderland’s The Seaburn Inn, Eke will now see his dish grace an upcoming specials menu across ICG’s 28 site strong estate.

It is quite the fillip for the budding chef who began his journey as a kitchen porter aged 16, joined The Commissioners Quay Inn brigade back in September 2020 and was promoted to chef in April of last year.

Reacting to winning in his first-ever competition, Eke said: “It was my first ever competition and once the competition got started, I was OK.  The build-up was a bit nerve-wracking, but I had a few dry runs, so I knew what I needed to do.

“I came up with my dish because I knew the meat is quite tender and has a lot of flavour and thought that something sweet would go very well with it. It needed a bit of richness so thought red wine jus and the carrots, it just needed some vegetables!

“I’m looking forward to seeing my dish out there across the inns and seeing the other chefs cooking it, I think they are probably going to do it a lot better than me!”

Taking place for the first time in 2023, The Inn Collection Group’s Young Chef of The Year competition is part of its ongoing efforts to inspire young talent in its kitchens as it attempts to provide an environment in which they are nurtured.

The HITSExpo cook off, which ran as part of the NECTA Hospitality Salon section of the event, was a result of The Inn Collection Group’s sponsorship and gave the five finalists an experience beyond their day-to-day cheffing.

It is part of a wider programme to develop new talent by The Inn Collection Group, who are about to launch a brand-new initiative in conjunction with Chef Benson-Smith Academy, which will train individuals completely new to the industry to be the newest talents to join the company.

Whilst Chef Eke’s dish took the overall prize, the standards also delivered by Scott Anderson, Hanna Hope, Chris Prescott and Jack Stewart were incredible high, with ICG’s head of food Tom Adlam hailing the efforts of all five finalists.

He said: “All the contestants did themselves proud and they represented The Inn Collection Group fantastically. Every plate of food that we saw today would be appropriate to go on the menu at one of our Inns and they should be extremely satisfied with what they have done.  They all hit the brief.

“The competition is all part of a learning process for them, they will get some good, honest feedback from the judges and hopefully, doing something like this will encourage them to put themselves out of their comfort zones and come back to do other competitions moving forward.

“This competition was all about showcasing and encouraging young chefs in our business to push themselves to learn.  An environment like this is not easy and some of them it was their first competition, and it is just going to help their development as people and as chefs.”