AS the sun scorched and the apples ripened on the trees, Selkirk’s first Plant To Plate Festival blossomed into a beautiful day out at Philiphaugh Walled Garden on Sunday afternoon.
The highlight of the event, which aimed to inspire children and adults to grow and cook local fruit and vegetables, was the two cook-offs in this year’s Scottish Borders Junior Chef Challenge.
The day’s competitors, who were split into two teams, were Susan Kay of the Lodge, Carfraemill near Lauder; Laura Burrell of the Buccleuch Arms, St Boswells; Jamie King of the Tontine Hotel, Peebles; William Cox of Marshall Meadows Country House, Berwick; and Donna Colvine of the Lauderdale Hotel in Lauder.
For each of the two tasks, the young chefs were given an hour to view, prepare and cook the garden ingredients before them, first into a vegetable savoury, and then into a sweet made with fruit.
The freshly picked fruit and vegetables facing the cooks included strawberries, grapes, apples, raspberries, baby tomatoes, carrots, beetroot, runner beans, baby purple turnips, broad beans, potatoes and parsley.
The day’s honoured guest was Derek Johnstone, 29, the head chef of Chez Roux at the Greywalls Hotel, Gullane. In between judging the two cook-offs and giving his own cooking display, Derek dispensed advice to the toiling young hopefuls. “You’ve got wonderful ingredients,” he said, “so treat them with respect. Don’t overcomplicate things, take only two or three ingredients, and keep it simple on the plate. I’m looking for clarity: a clear idea, and a sense of direction. Once you’ve got an idea, stick to it.”
In the first round, Susan, Donna and Jamie in Team 1 prepared a pasta dish with tomatoes and courgettes in a white wine sauce topped with carrot crisps, while Laura and William in Team 2 cooked a Mediterranean-style risotto using onion, garlic, chilli and vegetable stock, and finished with fried beetroot.
The crowd were then treated to Derek’s cooking demonstration of roast Borders grouse, boiled purple potatoes and buttered new baby carrots in a red wine sauce, followed by his judging of the WRI’s baking with vegetables competition. Christine Robertson’s chocolate beetroot cake came first, Margot Hastie’s beetroot and carrot cake was second place, and Edith Scott’s carrot cupcakes came third. Other entries included a blueberry and courgette cake, courgette and apple loaf and a corned beef and vegetable tart.
The young chefs’ teams were then mixed up like a warm summer salad in the second round, in which their new task was to create a fruity dessert. “Pick one main ingredientand do that really well,” Derek advised
Team 1, William and Donna, rustled up an apple and cinnamon tart with grape compote and a strawberry coulis, which judge Jonny Streets, who won last year’s Junior Chef Challenge, praised as “delicious, and very well executed.”
Team 2, Laura, Jamie and Susan, made a strawberry shortcake stack with strawberries and cream and a grape jelly. Tasting the shortcake, Derek Johnstone raved: “That’s just awesome. The biscuit just melts in your mouth.”
Spectators were just as enthusiastic when they were invited to taste the chefs’ creations. “I’m putting that spoon down,” said one lady: “They are just delicious – all of them. That shortcake was exceptional.”
The panel of judges decided that the winners of the first round were Will and Laura with their risotto, while the victors of the pudding round were Jamie, Laura and Susan with their strawberry shortcake stack.
The chefs, after the intense heat of the kitchen, seemed glad the experience was over: “It was good, I liked it,” remarked the Tontine’s Jamie King, “we all worked well together.”
“It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be,” commented Donna, who had never cooked before a crowd before.
Lead judge Sarah Dalrymple, an NVQ hospitality consultant and assessor, praised all the competitors: “Sir Michael Strang Steel’s gardens were the perfect backdrop for the junior chefs to create their masterpieces, they certainly came up trumps!
“Fresh garden produce was the key to their creations, and nerves were soon forgotten as they put their heads down and cooked with the passion and skill which we have been honoured to experience during the judges’ tastings.
“Dishes were produced which were bursting with flavour. It was a wonderful display of Scottish Borders talent. Big congratulations to the superbly talented young chefs – it is not easy to cook in front of an audience, you did it and you did it well.”
Festival organiser Will Haegeland of Selkirk’s County Hotel said: “A big thank you to everyone for all their help and all the hard work in making this a successful event. The day couldn’t have been better. The young chefs did very well and Derek from Greywalls did a great job in making the event successful. Without the effort of dedicated volunteers like Scott’s Selkirk, the town would not see positive events like this – so again a great thank you.”
In his speech, the owner of Philiphaugh Estate Sir Michael Strang Steel thanked the three gardeners, Robbie Johnstone, Gary Nicol and Kay Mercer, and added later: “I also send my thanks to all those, who worked so hard to make everything such a success. Will and Trond of the County Hotel did a huge amount and are to be congratulated on both the concept and its brilliant implementation.”
See this week’s Southern Reporter for more photographs of the event