Senior chefs serve up champion dishes at HITS Expo cook off

Five of The Inn Collection Group’s ambitious chefs served up a treat in Newcastle’s Stephenson Quarter on Monday (May 13) as they contested the senior section of the group’s cook-off at the 2024 Hospitality Innovation Tourism Supply (HITS) Expo.

Part of the group’s sponsorship of the North East Culinary & Trade Association (NECTA) Hospitality Salon, the competition was born out of the success of the inaugural young chef competition in 2023 which was repeated on the same day.

Open to head chefs and sous chefs from across the group 30 site estate, finalists were chosen on the strength of a two-course menu, either a starter and main or main and dessert, which they would prepare from scratch in just an hour and a quarter.

Chef preparing food
BBQ Pork Belly
Chef finishing dish

Representing The Lindisfarne Inn, The Seaburn Inn, The Northallerton Inn, The Harrogate Inn and The Ambleside Inn, Amrish Pandoo, Hanna Hope, James Wilkinson, Robert Hallas and Gaurav Chaube all impressed with hugely flavourful and elegant dishes.

With the prize of the winning meal featuring across the group’s special menus at all sites throughout the summer, the determination was high amongst all the contenders with the quality of the dishes providing plenty of food for thought for the judging panel.

After almost 45 minutes of deliberations, it was the Lake District Inn whose chef claimed the title, with his menu of chilli prawn Kurkure and chicken Albufera with Mediterranean cous cous and potato nest making the biggest impact.

Chef plating up
10 plates of food
Encrusted rack of lamb

Having arrived at The Ambleside Inn last autumn via some of the best kitchens in the Middle East, Gaurav is a chef who is making a real mark within the northern pubco, having also been nominated at the group’s internal awards back in March.

A Moroccan spiced lamb rump and warm treacle tart secured the silver trophy for Northallerton’s Wilkinson while a calamari fricassee and creole marinated cod fillet saw Lindisfarne’s Pandoo take bronze.

Having attracted strong interest after being requested by chefs across the company, the head of food for The Inn Collection Group, Tom Adlam was impressed by the performance of the finalists.

He said: “We had feedback from the pubs after last year’s young chef competition that there were more people in the business who would like to take part in a competition, so with one under our belt we wanted to progress and have a senior comp

“The young chef competition is really important so we have something where we can take them out of their comfort zones and give them a platform to showcase their skills, and it makes sense to have the same for the sous and head chefs too.

“It’s important to give the guys an experience away for the every day and an outlet to push themselves. It was really hard job to pick the finalists and the standards throughout have been impressive.

“It’s good to have friendly competition and though everyone wants to win, we saw last year that they are all pleased for each other.

The NECTA Hospitality Salon is the region’s most prominent culinary and catering exhibition and is open to both industry and the public as part of a broader HITS Expo, a celebration of the best in tourism and hospitality from across the North of the Tyne.

Bringing together the best practitioners in food, drink, hospitality and tourism under one roof, the HITS Expo encourages collaboration throughout the industry and beyond as well as highlights the role these vital sectors play in forging the region’s identity.