Have you eaten at the student-run restaurant Edmunds?
- Credit: Passion to Inspire
Tessa Allingham sits down to dinner prepared by some of the county’s most talented chefs and their most promising protegés
It’s not every day that a restaurant table is set with a goldfish bowl instead of a flower or two. Or that a tarte Tatin made by catering college students is deemed ‘restaurant quality, one of best I’ve ever eaten – and I’ve eaten a few’ by a respected chef with half a lifetime at the stove under his belt.
But that’s what student waiter Will Shinn did, and what judge Jeremy Medley said, and what contributed to the team of Will and two fellow student chefs, Crystal Newton and Alex Cornwell, from West Suffolk College, Bury St Edmunds, winning this year’s Passion to Inspire competition. The day after the competition the students are straight back to work, but the trophy sits triumphantly in the college restaurant, Edmunds.
The trio relive the experience. They talk about the stress of two hours without a working oven –“Just when I needed to roast the duck bones,” Crystal Newton recalls with a grimace – the near-miss when a bottle of Riesling was saved by a whisker from crashing to the floor, how they shared equipment with fellow competitors, and the exhilaration of creating and serving three dishes with paired wines to the very best of their ability.
They are effusive in their appreciation of their tutors, Stuart Ascott, Matt Golding and Rob Reynolds, and mentor James Carn, head chef at The Angel hotel, Bury St Edmunds. James taught them the tarte tatin recipe, helped them perfect the starter (tempura of Loch Duart salmon belly with lime, grapefruit, soy, peanut, avocado), and main course (Creedy Carver duck breast, duck fat pommes Anna, kibbeh, wild garlic, peas, broad beans, white asparagus, dukkah).
“We practised so much,” says Will, who devised a woodland theme to complement the menu. “I kept changing my mind with the setting. We had no idea how big the tables would be, but I wanted to do something dramatic. That’s where the goldfish came in.”
By the time this piece appears, Will, Crystal, and Alex will have met legendary chef Raymond Blanc at the July Skills for Chefs conference in Sheffield, they will have received their chef’s jackets and waiter’s apron, and no doubt will have dates set for the lunches, stages and producer visits that are all part of their prize.
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The Passion to Inspire trophy is contested annually between East Anglian catering colleges, with college heats determining a team to go to the finals. Devised and organised by chef Murray Chapman, the competition is at the heart of his mission to forge meaningful connections between experienced chefs and those in training.
He has no trouble finding chefs to judge, or persuading the likes of celebrity chef Cyrus Todiwala to share his knowledge of spices on an Upskill Day, part of the preparation for the finals.
“The judges were looking for evidence of learning from that day,” says Murray, “whether it was how to spice the duck, or what might work with the apples, or the correct seasoning for the salmon.” It was on this day that the required components of the fully costed meal were revealed – Loch Duart salmon belly, Creedy Carver duck, apple tarte Tatin.
The chef judges – Mark Poynton, previously of Alimentum in Cambridge, Nick Claxton-Webb from the Weeping Willow, Barrow, and Jeremy Medley from Infusions4Chefs – were as wowed by the food as Shara Ross (Hotel Felix, Cambridge) and Nick Mills (Brasted’s, near Norwich) were by the service and presentation.
They loved that the tarte was served whole, and shown before portioning, that the caramelised apples held together despite the long, slow cooking, and that Crystal rochered the vanilla and Calvados ice cream deftly at the table. They loved how the tarte tasted – sweet, sharp, fudgy, rich – how they nailed the seasoning of the kibbeh, and how the duck fat potatoes were, says Murray, “simply stunning”.
“They were so professional, their communication and teamwork was incredible. To see that at such a young age is amazing, it was a pleasure to watch.” James agrees. “They practised and practised but saved the best for the day. They were brilliant, such a cool team.” In fact, the whole year mentoring the Level 3s was a thrill, he says.
“We’ve worked with oysters, lobster, sweetbreads, all sorts of offal, even hand-dived scallops – ingredients they might not get to use at college. I’ve absolutely loved working with them, opening their eyes to opportunities. If you can help kick-start someone’s career when they’re 17, how fantastic is that!”
Charity begins at the table
Such is the persuasive charm of Murray Chapman that, one night back in April, some of East Anglia’s best-known chefs downed knives in familiar kitchens, and two top front of house professionals left their properties, to converge on Alan Paton’s kitchen and dining room at Stoke by Nayland hotel, golf and spa.
They had been summoned, and travelled willingly, to take part in a charity dinner, in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust, that they would prepare, cook and serve alongside student chefs and waiters from East Anglian colleges – Cambridge Regional, West Suffolk, Colchester – and Coventry and Milton Keynes colleges.
They would pass on the benefit of their experience to the young people, enthuse them about their chosen careers, show real-life service skills, connect and collaborate, and the event would raise £7,000 for the charity.
As the last desserts are served, Alan’s kitchen falls quiet, and the chefs and waiters acknowledge the applause of the room. Murray does a poor job of hiding his emotion. He’s grateful for the support for the voluntary, not-for-profit initiative that he set up back in 2009, and which has raised £150,000 for charity.
“These events are about raising money, but also about bringing education and industry together, getting experienced professionals to show youngsters what is possible,” he tells guests.
Rewind a few hours, and prep is in full swing. The voice of Bildeston Crown’s Chris Lee carries over the kitchen hubbub. “Keep your stations tidy,” he calls. He’s on starters with Lee Cooper, development chef at ICE Cook School in Rougham, and two students from West Suffolk College.
The youngsters jump to, nudged by lecturer Stuart Ascott, and wipe down the bench. Tyran Pierre, a Level 3 student, who adds to his college-based learning with a part-time job at 1921 Angel Hill restaurant, puts his knife meticulously through parsley, while fellow student Tom Herring works with Lee, cutting pain d’épice to go with smoked breast of Suffolk duck with lentils, gizzard, confit leg and cabbage.
“It’s magical to see the learning that happens on days like this,” says Lee. “And we need to do it – it’s something we have to do for the good of the industry.” Elsewhere, Matt Wilby, executive chef at the Royal Hospital School in Holbrook, and Steve Groves, head chef of the Michelin-starred Roux at Parliament Square, oversee Level 2 Colchester Institute students Will Alden and Harry Wilton.
The pair have prepped a mountain of radish for a main course of Dingley Dell pork ribeye and cheek – the latter will be combined with capers, parsley and mustard into a wellington – before Steve demonstrates just how fine he wants them to slice the pigs’ trotters that will be the base for a glossy sauce.
“I found out about the college when I was in year 7, and I’ve wanted to be a chef ever since,” says Will as he chops. It’s the same for Harry, and both work in local kitchens to supplement college learning. “This is all about getting ready for the workplace,” says Steve.
“We need to establish connections with the colleges, set things up for a strong future for the industry, and for the guys starting out. It can be intimidating, but hopefully this sort of event makes it less so.”
Later on, Steve casts a last eye over the main course plates as they flow past, carried confidently by front of house students under the watchful eye of Shara and Nick. He can relax, and hand the pressure over to Eric Snaith (Titchwell Manor, north Norfolk) and Russell Bateman, former National Chef of the Year and since July head chef at Petrus, Knightsbridge, who are working with Milton Keynes College students on dessert.
“It’s about making connections,” says Eric, as he oversees a multi-element dessert of banana fritter, dulce de leche parfait, vanilla pannacotta and passion fruit. “Some young chefs are not confident enough to pick up the phone to ask about jobs, so hopefully this gets rid of that fear.”
Suffolk magazine is looking for an individual or business to champion Young Chef of the Year in the 2019 Suffolk Food and Drink Awards. It’s a highly prized award, which attracts keen competition from the county’s up and coming chefs, and an invaluable showcase for their considerable talent.
If you believe we need to inspire and encourage young chefs and you want to help secure a strong future for the hospitality industry in Suffolk and the UK, why not get involved? For more information contact Suffolk magazine editor Jayne Lindill email@example.com, or Jodie Smith, commercial manager, firstname.lastname@example.org