District Finals of Rotary's Young Chef Competition 2024

The 2024 District Finals of Rotary’s Young Chef Competition had plenty of excitement for participating youngsters – though an unexpected fire alarm (no fire) added a bit of unexpected drama to the event!

The national Rotary Young Chef competition has been running now for several years, but this was only the second time that Canterbury has hosted the District Finals, which follow on from local heats. Our members lent a hand to the main organiser, Rob Ward from Canterbury Sunrise, with David Watson, District 1120’s Youth Service Team Leader (2023/2024) also being part of the organising team.

As for the Canterbury heat, the event was held in the Food Technology department of Canterbury’s Archbishop’s School. 

There were six finalists taking part in the finals (listed here in no particular order): Lewis (from Medway); Claudine (from Whitstable); Darcy (from Faversham); Saskia (from Orpington); Stanley (from Folkestone); and Faith (from Chatham). Parents, other supporters and teachers also came along to the event. 

Once again the chair of the judges was Joey Wicks (a professional chef from Canterbury's Prince of Wales Youth Club who has worked as a chef in London). He was joined by Alison Forrest (a former home economics and child psychology teacher who has taught for over 30 years in various schools) and Tim Clark (a retired Canterbury Christ Church University lecturer who jokingly claims to be "an enthusiastic cook and eater of food"!)

The challenge for the youngsters was to prepare and cook a two-course meal within a fixed budget in 2 hours. On the menu we had:

  • Lewis: Tomato & red pepper bruschetta (starter), roast chicken with broccoli, carrots, and roast potato in a red wine sauce/Maltesers cheesecake
  • Claudine: Miso, walnut & mushroom ravioli with baked pear and a citrus and sage chili butter sauce/Chocolate & raspberry souffle
  • Darcy: Butternut squash, spinach, and feta rotolo/ Baked apple with cream
  • Saskia: Chili con carne/Lime cheesecake
  • Stanley: Paneer tikka masala curry/Grapefruit drizzle cake served with vanilla cream and grilled grapefruit segments
  • Faith: Chicken Kiev/Raspberry cheesecake

The competition kicked off just after 10 am; the room was quiet at first as the youngsters busily prepared their ingredients, but things got livelier once the cooking started. The judges went around the room to watch the youngsters cook their dishes – they asked questions about what was on the menu, what ingredients were being used, and how each youngster was going to cook their dish. They also kept an eye on knife skills, cleanliness, and organisation.

Everything was going so well and the room was filled with the fragrance of the dishes when, just as the 2 hours were coming to an end and the competitors were in the last frenzied minutes of their time, the fire alarm set off – meaning the building had to be evacuated!

Everyone headed out to the assembly point to wait for clearance to go back in – quite a long wait in the cold and drizzle (though some people did eventually seek shelter in cars!)

After some time, at last, everyone was allowed back and the competitors reviewed where they’d got to and checked the status of their food. They were allowed a few more minutes to finish their dishes and plate them up for the judges; the judges reassured them that they would allow for the interruption in the judging – knowing that items might have suffered during the long pause.

Each contestant was called up by turn to present their dishes. The judges asked questions while assessing the final presentation and tasting the dish. All three judges also gave constructive feedback on how the dishes could be improved in the future.

Leftovers were taken to the adjacent room so that waiting parents and supporters could also enjoy a nibble!

The judges then made their deliberations while the youngsters finished clearing up. It was heartening to see the youngsters encouraging each other – and even hear them exchanging tips and discoveries that they had made on their own cooking journey.

Finally, the judges called everyone together so that they could announce the winners -  while District’s David Watson presented winners with their certificates and prizes.

Before announcing winners Judge Alison emphasized what a hard decision it had been – with a tiny margin separating each contestant. She said how much the judges had enjoyed the tasting and encouraged the youngsters to keep cooking: “Whatever you’re doing, please keep it up,” she said. She wished all the youngsters the best in their education and thanked the parents for their support.

Tim added how he had really enjoyed eating such a high standard of food and remarked how he would never have been able to produce something like this at their age. “The flavours, taste, and presentation were all excellent,” he said.

“This kind of thing really enthuses me,” said Joey. “To see what you’re doing at this age is incredible – every one of you has unique skills and knowledge of cooking,” he added. He also encouraged the youngsters to keep being creative – and asked the parents to keep giving the youngsters opportunities to cook.

The judges then called out the 3rd place winner – Stanley. Next, they announced the second place winner – Claudine. And finally – after a brief pause – they announced the winner – Darcy, from Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School! Well done Darcy!

Claudine and Darcy received Lakeland vouchers while Darcy also received an engraved pestle and mortar from David Watson, who announced that the top three now have the opportunity to compete in the Regional Finals in Southampton on the 16th March.

Certificates were also presented to all of the other entrants, while the judges were presented with a bottle of wine as a token of thanks. Our sincere thanks to Sam Jackman and the staff at Archbishop’s for hosting us and for having to come in on a weekend to help us out – and for coping so well with the upheaval of the alarm!

All-in-all, the competition proved a wonderful opportunity for the youngsters to showcase their culinary skills. All competitors should be congratulated on their entry. We wish everyone well in whatever career they go on to have – and of course, we have our fingers crossed for those who will be representing our District in the Regional Finals.

Picture: A collage of the various dishes together with pictures of the participants and judges. Picture credit: Rotary Clubs of Canterbury. Further pictures are available in our Facebook album.

*Surnames omitted for privacy purposes.

Monday 26th February 2024

Published by: The Rotary Club of Canterbury

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