When you eat in a restaurant, how much thought do you give to the chef?
I’m not just talking those chefs with Michelin stars, or your AA Rosettes, or even the ones off the telly, I’m talking those in the kitchen of your local gastro pub, family run restaurant, chain venue. Do you think about them, or just the food?
And while we’re on the subject, how much thought do you give to your server? Do you leave a tip? Do you appreciate someone who goes the extra step, or just remember the bad experiences?
Last week I went to Sheffield College, to Sparks College Restaurant, to meet the people behind the Master Chefs of Great Britain, Skills for Chefs, and Skills for Service. To meet those championing the young chefs and the hospitality staff of the future, investing time and effort into training, guidance and inspiring those who see hospitality as a career, rather than a stopgap while they study.
And I don’t mind saying, I was bloody impressed.
The event, the Young Finn Crisp Chef of the Year 2015, was a lunch following last year’s competition which saw young chefs challenged by Finn Crisp to use their (addictive little) crispbreads in an innovative way within a dish. One of the many competitions used to inspire students to progress, it’s now in it’s fourth year and has seen the number of chefs taking part grow both in number and in skill. We were there to sample the top three dishes, including the winning dish of the competition, all within the fantastic facilities on campus – including the kitchen which would have many restaurants distinctly envious.
To whet our appetites, an array of nibbles were brought from the kitchen – mini spare ribs, beef in soy sauce and sesame, spicy pork balls and bierocks, particularly addictive beef and cabbage stuffed rolls with caraway.
All were served to us by students of the college, allowing them to put their learning into practice, though I think one of two may have been a little intimidated by the lovely chap sitting to my left.
Why yes, that would be Cyrus Todiwala, who you may recognise from Saturday Kitchen, Daybreak, Drop Down Menu, The Incredible Spice Men, or indeed his own restaurants Cafe Spice Namaste, Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen, or Assado. Both he and his wife Pervin support projects aimed at training young chefs, and their enthusiasm showed throughout the lunch (though Pervin and I may have been slightly distracted by a discussion about gin).
Ahead of our first young chef prepared dish, and in case our taste buds hadn’t awakened substantially enough, an amuse bouche was deftly delivered to our tables.
A creamy, lightly sweet butternut squash soup, dusted with spiced and ground Finn Crisp sat delicately in an espresso cup. The spices and nuttiness of the dust cut through the creaminess, and my mouth was rather disappointed when it ended (though I rather suspect my waistline was pleased).
And so to the starter. And my it was pretty.
Brown shrimp and rich crab meat dotted with sharp citrus adorned a Finn Crisp mille feulle, adding a delicious contrast.
Our main too was just as generous and delicious.
Surf and turf, with crisp onions, soft earthy mushrooms, and a gravy to make the northern girl in me very, very happy.
Ahead of dessert and to cleanse the palate we were then treated to a pre-dessert (yes I was by this point very glad I’d skipped breakfast and indeed had worn a very forgiving dress), and it was again a stunner. rhubarb and ginger mascarpone cheesecake with Finn Crisp in the crumb and a shard of sesame caramel that just softened the sharpness.
And to dessert, and the winning dish. It wasn’t hard to see why it won. First of all, look how pretty it is.
Maybe we should look at that again to be sure.
Skill in both presentation and in flavour. Black Forest gateaux, featuring black cherry puree, a delightfully presented baton of creamy white chocolate atop a rich brownie and ice cream. I was disheartened that by this point, I could not do the dish justice.
Oh, and where is the Finn Crisp? Can you guess? It took me a little while to figure it out.
In the shard of wafer, creating sweet, malty flavour, a crisp texture and showing an ingenuity that simply would not have occurred to me, and only going further to prove just how good these chefs of the future are.
As our hosts thanked the staff and students, I can’t help but not only be grateful for the invite, but also want to help in any way I can, particularly as evidenced by my Twitter feed on a regular basis, there is a real need for skilled chefs across the nation.
If these students are the future, it’s looking bloody rosy.
We just need more.
With huge thanks to all involved, especially the students themselves.