- Credit: Eastern Daily Press
Next month, Steve Thorpe will once again be casting an eye over the county’s finest cooks as he looks for a worthy winner of the title of Chef of the Year in the EDP Norfolk Food and Drink Awards 2014, in association with the East of England Co-Op.
He has been involved in awards for more than a decade and last year was the worthy and popular winner of the Outstanding Achievement Award for his inspiration and dedication to the county’s food and hospitality industry.
“I would love to see as many chefs as possible entering this year,” says Steve, who is head of the Hotel School at City College Norwich. “I think sometimes they are simply too busy to enter, but also I think they don’t know just how talented they are and the benefits it can have in terms of their own ambitions.”
Entrants this year will be asked to create a three-course menu, within a set budget, using locally sourced seasonal ingredients. The panel of judges, led by Steve, will shortlist eight candidates.
“The finalists will cook their menus for us, serving four portions. It not only a test of their culinary skills, their palate, and their understanding of ingredients, we also look for kitchen hygiene. Then we get to taste it all, looking at presentation, texture, flavour and balance.”
Steve started his cooking career not in the kitchen of a fancy restaurant but in a far more demanding environment.
“As a 14 year old I wanted to be a jockey as I was even shorter than I am now,” he laughs. “But I went to work at some stables and realised it was really hard work, so I decided to join the army. I was only 16 and my father refused to sign the permission forms unless I also got a trade, so I dropped the woodwork course I was doing and started a cookery class. I haven’t stopped since.”
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But he says the challenges remain the same: “Wherever you are, you are still always cooking for the customer, whether that is in a top restaurant or for 100 troops out in a field kitchen. And let me tell you, food is the one thing soldiers really like to complain about. If it isn’t right, they are harsh critics.”
His military career saw him stationed all over the world, often in conflict zones.
“I have cooked in Germany, in the Falklands following the end of the war, in the Balkans and Northern Ireland, which all bring their own challenges. I also cooked with a team at the White House for then president George Bush senior and General Colin Powell. That was pretty exciting.”
Having been diagnosed as coeliac last year, Steve says he has been spending a lot more time in the kitchen at home.
“It has really made me think about what I can cook and eat, so I have been developing a lot of bread and cake recipes. Refreshingly though I have found that nearly every restaurant I have been to in Norfolk has been amazing in catering for my dietary restrictions.”