A pick of the Borders’ best young cooking talents faced a meat and fish skills test in the latest stage of the Scottish Borders Junior Chef Challenge this week.
Six competing chefs turned up at the County Hotel in Selkirk on Tuesday to watch expert butchery and fish filleting demonstrations, and then showed off the skills they had learnt for the instructors to judge.
First to demonstrate was Gordon Newlands, an assessor at Scottish Meat Training, who teaches all butchers’ apprentices in southern Scotland. “I’ll be teaching the chefs how to bone a lamb gigot,” he said, “then how to seam it, which means cutting along the natural seams into the three major muscles, topside, silverside and knuckle, and finally how to trim excess fat and gristle.
“It’s very important chefs learn butchery, because if they can buy a whole lamb carcass and cut it into joints themselves, they’ll yield a better profit for their business.
“For example, you can buy a whole leg of lamb for £6-£7 a kilo, but you have to pay around £14 a kilo for a gigot steak. For marking, I’ll be looking for the bones to be clean, that they’re hitting the correct seams, and tidiness: no slashing or digging into the flesh, or they’ll be losing profit.”
The second instructor was Robbie Bunton, head chef at the Woll Restaurant and Bar on the New Woll Estate at Ashkirk, who showed the chefs how to gut, debone, fillet and skin different species of fish caught off Scotland’s coast.
“I want to see them taking as much meat off the bone as they can, and leaving a clean fillet,” he advised.
The competitors in this stage of the Scottish Borders Junior Chef Challenge were: Donna Colvine of the Lauderdale Hotel in Lauder; Susan Kay of the Lodge, Carfraemill, Lauder; Jamie King of the Tontine Hotel, Peebles; Laura Burrell of the Buccleuch Arms, St Boswells; Matthew Smith of the Horseshoe Inn, Eddleston; and William Cox of the Marshall Meadows Hotel, Berwick.
The young talents admitted to finding both tasks challenging. Asked what she’d learnt from the experience, Laura Burrell replied: “The butchery and boning the lamb leg was new to me. Being a chef covers a lot of things now, so it’s good to know how to do it.”
William Cox added: “Taking the shank off was the easiest bit. The hardest bit was tunnelling out the femur bone.”
Marshall Meadows Hotel co-owner Robert Hester has noticed an improvement William’s cooking since he entered the competition: “I think he’s becoming more adventurous, and willing to try out new things. He’s been inventing recipes and bringing them in. There’s an awful lot to be learned from watching other professional people.”
Gordon Innes, who owns the Tontine Hotel in Peebles, concurred: “I’m a great believer that guys that age must learn as much as they can. We felt that there would be a huge learning curve, in the long term whether they win or lose it’s going to benefit them greatly as they move forward in their careers. I think all of us at the hotel have noticed a huge improvement, mainly in confidence.”
Speaking to TheSouthern afterwards, Mr Newlands said: “My congratulations must go to the young chefs, who bravely attempted a very difficult task. They did excellently – very good for seeing the demonstration only once. My apprentices are only expected to butcher a lamb leg to this to standard after a year.
“It’s very hard to cut a gigot of lamb: there are so many seams in it, but the chefs hit every one. If they can master butchery and put that on their CV before going for a chef job, it’ll be a big tick for them.
“With this display of our young chefs today, I firmly believe that the future is bright for our hotels and caterers in the borders and beyond. First class attitude! Well done.”
Organiser Will Haegeland of Selkirk’s County Hotel added: “I would like to thank the instructors for their help in making this task such a great and challenging experience for all the contestants. I am sure they took a lot of new knowledge and skills from it and will not find it so daunting to attempt working with raw, un-prepared produce from now on.
“That is exactly the aim of the competition: to challenge, inspire and develop the junior talents taking part, and they helped that brilliantly today.”
The organisers and judges also wished to thank Quality Meat Scotland for donating legs of lamb for the chefs to cut and take home, and to Eyemouth fishmonger DR Collin, which generously gifted an ice box of freshly caught cod, haddock, mackerel, hake, monkfish, plaice, sole and ling.
“The junior chefs have taken their produce with them back to their establishments to practice cooking lamb for the finals,” Mr Haegeland concluded.