Last two junior chefs prepare for final cook-off at food fest

Matthew Smith. Horseshoe Inn, Eddleston. Junior Chef Competition.
Matthew Smith. Horseshoe Inn, Eddleston. Junior Chef Competition.
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The second of the two chefs who will be competing against each other to win the 2012 Scottish Borders Junior Chef Challenge, has been named as Matthew Smith from The Horseshoe Inn, Eddleston.

“It came as a shock,” said the 22-year-old from Dumfries and Galloway, who learned of his selection only two days ago when he came back from holiday.

Matthew Smith. Horseshoe Inn, Eddleston. Junior Chef Competition.

Matthew Smith. Horseshoe Inn, Eddleston. Junior Chef Competition.

“I’m quite excited about the final. It should be good fun.”

The task will test the two finalists’ skills as they cook a lamb dish in front of an audience, and the victor in the final cook-off at 2pm on Sunday in Peebles Eastgate Theatre wins a two week placement at Edinburgh’s Balmoral Hotel.

“The prize sounds brilliant,” he said. “I’m going to cook what I know is good, rather than taking any risks, because I’ve only got four days to prepare. But I’ve got plenty of ideas.”

Matthew has risen to the top staggeringly quickly. When he arrived at The Horseshoe Inn in February this year from a pub in Edinburgh, it was his first experience of working in a fine dining restaurant.

“After two years at the Radical Road, I’d learned everything I could,” he told us, “and it was time to step up to fine dining. Becoming chef de partie was a massive step up, but after a couple of months I was fine.”

Colleagues were quick to heap praise on the young chef.

“We all learn from each other – he learns from us, and we learn from him,” said the Horseshoe’s sous chef Stuart Smith.

“He was keen to improve, and happy to listen. It’s an open kitchen, so Matthew would go home, read books, and come back with ideas. He came up with his own two very strong dishes for the competition. We’re all really pleased for him. We had every expectation he was going to 
do well.”

All the competing chefs were tested on their ability to create, cost and cook their own two-course menus using local ingredients, and their dishes were served before a panel of judges and the voting public. Matthew prepared a main course of rabbit loin three ways, with Jerusalem artichoke puree and Parmesan cream, followed by a dessert of wild strawberry bavarois with meringues, strawberry cremeaux, pistachios and meadowsweet ice-cream.

Stuart Smith added: “The restaurant makes a point of ordering everything whole, so we all had to learn how to fillet a fish and butcher meat ourselves. Matthew does it quite regularly, so we knew he wouldn’t be fased by the skills tasks. Matthew’s also passionate about pastry, so we recommended he do a dessert to get ahead of the pack.”

Competition judge Sally Dalrymple congratulated all the challengers in this year’s competition.

She said: “Incredible skills have been demonstrated among all the competing chefs. Again, the Borders has revealed real gems and great potential.

“Each one of the contestants were winners in my eyes: they made the effort, took on the challenge, cooked their hearts out, and blew the judges away with their skill, imagination and dedication to their passion.

“A great big round of applause to the chefs and their establishments. Each year the challenge gets more exciting and the judges tasks gets more difficult. If the last two years are anything to go by, next year will be phenomenal.

“You did the Borders proud, well done!

“A great big thank you to all the supporters and sponsors of the challenge: Margaret Stewart of Quality Meats Scotland and DR Collin for supplying legs of lamb and boxes of fresh fish for the skills tasks; butcher Gordon Newlands of Scottish Meat Training, head chef at The Woll restaurant Robbie Bunton and Patrick Bardoulet of Cringletie House Hotel for teaching the chefs about preparing meat, fish and desserts; Sir Michael Strang Steel, The County Hotel and Scott’s Selkirk for hosting the Plant To Plate Festival at Philiphaugh walled gardens, and to Derek Johnstone, head chef of Chez Roux at Gullane’s Greywalls Hotel, who judged the vegetable cook-off.”