Food Development Competition. Day 4. The North. Mains and Puddings.
Seventh session of our food competition finals this year (had to loosen my belt this morning) and we were onto mains in the north. We didn't have any disappointments as the standard was so high.
Everyone made our job as judges so difficult today with even the execs saying, 'best of luck choosing from those'. With such quality and terrific cooking on show, it was really difficult to choose only one winner but of course there can only be one and in the end, we agreed it should be:
Braised ox cheek with caramelised shallot puree and ox tail fondant, roasted baby turnips from Becky and Alix from the Combermere Arms, Burleydam.
So firmly in The Combermere's comfort zone of classic British country dining, the returning main course champions from last year's regional and group finals showed their class again although it was very, very close. Perfect cooking and execution and with a nod to nose to tail eating (cheek to tail in reality) we were delivered an unctuous, rich and warming plate of slow cookedness. With each element expertly cooked we really had no need to feedback anything other than our admiration. The cheek (albeit a touch large) was easily eaten with a spoon and the fondant filled with slow braised oxtail looked just like a potato bone marrow - clever stuff. Super silky-smooth shallot puree with well-judged vegetables completed the picture of consummate country cooking.
Our final five northern teams really made us work this year with all of them neck and neck as the puddings came out to taste, and this gave us a hard decision at the end of a pleasantly warm September day, winners in the end by one point were:
Lauren and Joseph from Sutton Hall, Macclesfield with Honey parfait with blackberries, honeycomb and yoghurt sorbet.
Jo and Lauren were hit with technical difficulties with our freezer on go slow but persevered to win by a nose. What's the odds of having two parfaits accompanied by sorbet and with brandy snap in the final line up? Team Suttons had an excellent blend of honey and blackberries with a yoghurt sorbet they had made for them by Cheshire Farm. The surprise centre of blackberries brought tartness to cut across the smooth parfait with big hunks of homemade honeycomb adding crunch and much excitement for Mary.
Thank you to all of the teams competing with the practising and refining of dishes clear to see. Thanks too to all who sent in some great dishes for us to judge that didn't quite make it through and hopefully you will all enter again next year. There was good humour, jolliness and fun seeing managers and head chefs as expectant parents cajoling and encouraging their competitors along - thanks for coming, your teams really appreciated it.
Again, this year we have a final of finals which this year is in our southern training kitchens at The Refectory on Thursday 12th October with the unenviable task of picking the overall national winners for each category. These lucky folks will win the prize of lunch at Marcus Waring at The Berkeley in London.