Twenty young Border College chefs who are competing for the big break of their career – a six-month scholarship in a restaurant run by the Michelin-starred chef Albert Roux –have been whittled down to six finalists in the latest round, judged by masterchef Glen Watson.
Mr Watson, who is originally from Kelso, and is a former Borders College student now working as an executive chef with the Roux Consultancy, returned to his alma mater this month to decide which local entrants would go through to cook for Albert Roux in May and July.
The 20 catering students from Level 2 and Level 3 who took part in the cook-off were given one hour to cook one classic dish using local and seasonal ingredients.
After the heat of the kitchen had cooled, Mr Watson commented: “The dishes were of a very high standard, with a lot of thought being put into them. All the students used local ingredients very well, and took on board the importance of flavouring and seasoning their dishes well. The students’ working methods within the kitchen were also excellent.”
The six finalists through to the next stage are: Level 2 students Andy Thomson from Earlston, Paulo Neves from Melrose, Chris Mitchell from Hawick and Jessica Mead from St Boswells, and from Level 3 Lynn Frizzell from Galashiels, and Ainsley Casson from Hawick.
Paulo Neves impressed with a langoustine souffle and shellfish coulis, while Jessica Mead wowed with a rump of new season lamb with Puy lentils and vegetables. Ainsley Casson cooked pan-seared duck breast with a butternut squash puree and a red wine jus, and Andy Thomson created lamb fillet with fondant potatoes, baby carrots and asparagus wrapped in Parma ham. Finally, Christopher Mitchell produced a trio of Scottish lamb, while Lynn Frizzell prepared a loin of Scottish venison served on a bed of spring cabbage with pommes mousseline, baby turnips, carrots, red wine and port jus, topped with a venison, haggis and cocoa nib bon bon
But this is only the start of the competitors’ journey. The six Border students will now go on to compete in a cook-off before Albert Roux in May, for the bicentenary celebrations of the Border Union Agricultural Society (BUAS).
The six will be given two and a half hours to cook two new dishes, and one of the dishes must include pastry. Later, the students will be invited to cook alongside Roux, and another Michelin-starred chef, Tom Kitchen, for the 400-500 guests at the BUAS bicentenary dinner at Kelso’s Springwood Park in July. In addition to the Border Union Show’s traditional competitions, activities and displays on 26 and 27 July, the 2013 bicentenary event will include a food fair featuring top UK chefs.
The Borders College finalists are competing for the ultimate prize – a six-month scholarship in a restaurant run by Albert Roux, who with his brother Michel operated Le Gavroche in London, the first restaurant in the UK to gain three Michelin stars. BUAS is funding the winner’s accommodation.
Vicky MacDonald, who works as the college’s programme leader of creative industries and sport, said: “This competition is very important for the students’ career, and a great opportunity for them to showcase their skills.” She explained: “We don’t usually get someone of this stature to the Borders. I think the students realise how important it could be for their career.”
Mr Watson, who sets up recipes and sources produce for the Roux Consultancy’s many Michelin-starred restaurants throughout the country, proposed the Borders College competition in September last year, thanks to his connection with the region. He started his career more than 20 years ago at the Ednam House Hotel in Kelso, and attended Henderson Technical College in Hawick. Over the years he worked with great chefs in many prestigious establishments.
In October he came back to his roots to give a demonstration to catering students at Borders College, cooking three of the dishes synonymous with Le Gavroche and the Chez Roux restaurants in Scotland: the starter soufflé Swissesse, a cheese soufflé cooked on double cream, followed by shoulder of Aberdeen Angus with potato fondant and buttered spinach, and finally sea trout with squid ink risotto.
In March he returned to whittle the first, second and third-year contestants down to the final six. The competition was open to all catering students currently at Borders College. “Whoever wins,” added Ms MacDonald, “it will be one of our students who will be awarded the scholarship.”