Chef Of The Year

1st Aug 2017

Probably the finest chefs in Northamptonshire!

To the soundtrack of sizzling frying pans, bubbling pans and knives a-chopping, some of the county’s finest chefs have been battling it out to win two of the prestigious titles in this year’s Carlsberg UK Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards.

The competition, now in its ninth year, is again aimed at celebrating all that is great about local produce and drink, recognising excellence within the county’s dining venues and rewarding those who work so hard within the culinary sector.

The accolades being vied for were those of ‘Booker Young Chef of the Year’ (sponsored by Booker), for budding culinary stars aged 18-25, and ‘Chef of the Year’ (sponsored by Dawn Farms and Cordant People) for those over 25.

The finalists competing for the senior title were (in alphabetical order):

Joe Buckley from the Tollemache Arms, Harrington

Michael Palmiero from The Palmichael, Burton Latimer

James Peck from The Carriage House, Higham Ferrers

Richard Walker from Fawsley Hall, Fawsley

Grant Wentzel from Samuel Pepys, Slipton

The five, shortlisted from a record number of entries, were invited to the impressive kitchens of Northampton College to take part in a ‘Ready Steady Cook’ style challenge to prepare two courses, each being provided with a selection of store cupboard products from Awards sponsors Booker as well as their key Northamptonshire ingredients of rapeseed oil from Farrington Oils at Hargrave, rhubarb gin from Warner Edwards in Harrington and cider from Healy’s of Winwick. 

In contrast to previous years the quintet were asked to put a Northamptonshire twist on two classic dishes – Pigeons en Estouffade and Gateau St Honoré – while they also took part in a ‘Masterchef’ style technical challenge, being asked to create three egg dishes in 15 minutes to test their planning flavouring and organisational skills.

They were watched throughout the entire three-hour process by an expert panel of judges including Innovation Manager at category co-sponsor Dawn Farms, Aaron Melly, and former cookery school owner Mary Laing. Each observed, quizzed and scored the chefs before tucking into their varied dishes

The second cook-off, also at Northampton College, saw nine of the county’s finest up and coming chefs battle it out in the semi-final of the ‘Booker Young Chef of the Year’. Like their senior counterparts, they too were provided with a basket of kitchen ingredients by category sponsors Booker as well as their local ingredients of Farrington’s rapeseed oil and Northamptonshire Blue cheese from Hamm Tun Fine Foods in Hannington (who featured on BBC1’s Countryfile on Sunday), from which, in a modern twist, they were asked to create a dish of ‘street food’ for two people. 

Drawing upon their wide variety of cooking talents, they turned the key ingredient of neck of lamb into a wonderful array of dishes for the judges – everything from burnt lamb flatbread with a marinated onion salad and orange yoghurt, lamb tacos with blue cheese bon bons and chorizo, coriander and chilli dumplings served with an onion veloute.

Those contending with the tricky but enjoyable task of choosing the finalists were Peter Saunders, who is Catering Development Manager with category sponsor Booker, and chef-owner of Shires Cookery School, James Claydon, for whom the cook-off was a real display of rising talent: “I was really impressed by the all of the nine young chefs and amazed at how they coped with the challenge thrown at them, planning their dishes carefully and executing them with real attention to detail” explained James.

“Street food is really in fashion and so it was also great to see them be so innovative, which meant that, even though they all had the same ingredients, the resulting nine dishes were all so varied.

“I thought they did a great job and the shortlisting session was really tough - and really tasty!” he added.

The five finalists, who now go forward to compete for the ‘Booker Young Chef of the Year’ title in the final cook-off in September are (in alphabetical order):

Victoria Austin from Brasserie 23 at The Kings Head, Spratton

Arturs Dzerins from The Hopping Hare, Northampton

Stephen Kellett from the Tollemache Arms, Harrington

Jake McQueen from Franks Hamburger House, Northampton

Kirsty Rattray from The Plough @ Shutlanger, Shutlanger

All finalists now have until Thursday 15th November to discover their fate when the winners and runners-up in all the categories of this year’s Awards will be announced at the Awards Dinner.

For more details, please call Rachel Mallows on 01933 664437 or email or visit the Awards’ website at

Meanwhile you can also follow the Awards on twitter at @foodawardsHQ or on Facebook at

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