Young Chefs sparkle at NECTA cook-off competition

Up-and-coming culinary talent based across the north of England displayed all their skills in Newcastle’s Stephenson Quarter in May, as The Inn Collection Group’s Young Chef competition served up an exciting attraction at the 2024 Hospitality Innovation Tourism Supply (HITS) Expo.

Open to chef de partie and commis chefs across the group’s 30-site estate, six finalists were selected to test themselves against each other and the clock, in a competitive cook-off at the North East Culinary & Trade Association (NECTA) Hospitality Salon.

With more than 20 entries received, there was strong competition just to make the final, with chefs from Northumberland, County Durham, North Yorkshire and Lancashire qualifying to contest the showpiece event.

Male chef plating up a meal
Fillets of fish frying in a pan
Male chef plating up food

Given just an hour in which to prepare from scratch, expertly cook and prettily present a dish of their creation, the plates of food delivered showcased a delicious array of ingredients that tantalised the tastebuds of the assembled judging panel.

Scott Anderson from The Hog’s Head Inn served up a delicious pork fillet, accompanied by black pudding crushed potatoes, a poached egg & an apple cider cream sauce whilst the second chef drawn from the Alnwick pub’s kitchen, Alfie Dunn showed superb composure during his cook to present sea bass and sauteed potatoes with a pea puree, green beans and a beurre blanc.

Charlotte Cazalet Smith meanwhile represented Durham city centre pub The Kingslodge Inn, with an impressive, encrusted lamb rump with fondant potatoes, grilled asparagus, and a cranberry & red wine jus, to complete the runners-up.

Female chef spooning a sauce
hPlate of food - Cod with lemon butter potatoes
Female chef seasoning food

Awarded the bronze trophy for her seared duck breast served with Hasselback potatoes, pea and broad bean puree and a pomegranate sauce, it was another assured step from The Lindisfarne Inn’s Robyn Cuthbert.

Originally joining the pub as a member of the front-of-house team, her progress as a chef has been remarkable since moving into the kitchen and has shown even further levels of development under the tutelage of head chef Amrish Pandoo.

Joe Bowman from Morecambe’s Midland Hotel used his site’s coastal grounding to earn the Silver trophy, with an onion bhaji crumbed, pan-fried cod served on a coriander potato risotto and coriander oil.

It was a second cod dish though that was judged to be the best of those produced as Felix Allen of The Harrogate Inn emerged as the ultimate champion.

Joining the spa town kitchen back in October 2023, the 20-year-old wowed the panel with pan-seared cod served with lemon butter potatoes, a fennel and dill salad and a beurre Blanc split with parsley oil.

Described as light and perfect for summerFelix’s dish will now feature on an upcoming specials menu across Northumberland, Tyne & Wear, County Durham, North Yorkshire, Lancashire, North Yorkshire and the Lake District.

Speaking about the winning dish, Felix said: “There aren’t a massive number of elements to it, it’s just technique.  I started as a chef in a fine-dining restaurant and that teaches you to look at every detail and know the processes that can make every ingredient better.

“I wanted my dish to be something lighter and with a bit of zest to it which you get with the lemon butter potatoes, the fennel and dill and then I used a sweet cooking wine for the sauce to cut through.

“In summer, you don’t want something rich dark and heavy and I think this would be perfect to sit and enjoy on one of our terraces outside at The Harrogate Inn.”

Explaining his drive to enter the competition, Felix added: “I saw the leaflet and sat on it for a little bit, but thought it would be a really good way to show who I am.  

I’ve only been with the company since October, but I want to rise as fast as I can and this was a good opportunity which my head chef gave me a little push to enter. 

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.