Local Sussex ingredients were showcased at their best in the spring menus of five superb young Sussex chefs who took part in a sizzling ‘MasterChef’ style cook off at the Greater Metropolitan College in Brighton on Monday 2 March.

The Sussex Young Chef of the Year 2020 category of Sussex Food & Drink Awards was stronger than ever to decide the winner of this coveted title, sponsored by Blakes Foods.

Dan Ibbotson from etch. in Brighton & Hove, Freddie Innes from Ockenden Manor Hotel, Cuckfield in West Sussex and Tom Thwaites from Rathfinny Tasting Room in Alfriston, East Sussex were thrilled to be announced as this year’s Grand Finalists.

All three will be invited to the Sussex Food and Drink Awards banquet, taking place on April 29 2020 at the Amex stadium, where the overall winner of Sussex Young Chef of the Year will be revealed and presented with their winning trophy.

They fought off some intense competition as all the young chefs performed at their very best and delivered some impressive menus. The other two chefs competing were Joe Murphy from Heritage in Slaugham, West Sussex and Charlie Simmons from The Pass at South Lodge Hotel in Lower Beeding, West Sussex.

All five chefs were presented with a SuperFast Thermapen® goodie bag and a certificate and the judging panel praised the high standard that was presented to them today.

Lead judge was nationally acclaimed chef and Great British Menu Winner, Matt Gillan, accompanied by fellow Michelin star chefs George Blogg from Gravetye Manor near East Grinstead and Tristan Mason from Restaurant Tristan in Horsham. Fran Villani, Food Blogger and designer from Brighton and sponsor Ben Milford from Blakes Foods also joined the judging panel and all were hugely impressed with the quality and professionalism shown by the young chefs.

Said Matt, “This is my fourth year involved in this incredible competition and I’d like to thank my superb, professional judging panel. This year I can honestly say that we have seen the highest standard ever. All five young chefs showed superb technique, presentation and their sourcing of local, seasonal ingredients for a spring menu was faultless, even though it’s a little early for spring.

“This contest is a great opportunity for these young chefs to put their own menus to the test. It is designed to encourage all of them to have a real sense of ownership and achievement at a young age and moving forwards this really does have a huge impact on them.”

The chefs were asked to create a special spring menu to celebrate the end of a long winter and mark the change of the seasons. The three-course dinner or lunch had to showcase ingredients from Sussex producers, farmers and growers with a limited budget of £15 per person and only 90 minutes to produce two plates of each course.

Taste, presentation, market appeal and consumer trends used in the menus were all under scrutiny as well as the sourcing and creativity of ingredients used, the balance and mix of the dishes, workmanship and food hygiene.

Said Ben Milford, “The dishes we tasted were fantastic and it was very hard to choose between them. These chefs should feel incredibly proud of what they have achieved and I am delighted that Blakes Foods is sponsoring this category.”

Dan Ibbotson, aged 20, from etch. in Brighton & Hove, who was the youngest Grand Finalist last year, produced a stylishly presented Fish and Chip starter followed by Pork with Onion and Wild Garlic, followed by a superb dessert using Braeburn Apple, Elderflower and Goats Milk.

He said, “I feel that I’ve developed a lot as a chef in the last year and I’m really delighted to be a Grand Finalist again. Whether I win or not, I really feel like I’m making progress.”

Freddie Innes, aged 25, from Ockenden Manor Hotel, Cuckfield in West Sussex produced Balcombe Estate Wood Pidgeon Breast and Crispy Leg, Beetroot and Apple Tian, Apple Puree and Beetroot Leaf, followed by Newhaven Landed Cod, Mussel and Leek Fricassee and Crispy Potato and Leek Oil. His dessert was Sussex Rhubarb Tart, Lemon and White Chocolate Cream, Rhubarb Sorbet.

Freddie said, “I’m really excited to be in this competition for the first time and was very happy with the menu I served on the day.”

Tom Thwaites, aged 23, from Rathfinny Tasting Room in Alfriston, East Sussex, cooked Pan Roasted Rye Bay Scallops with Crispy Chicken followed by Sussex Chicken Two Ways and then a spring dessert of Rhubarb and Ginger Souffle.

Tom said, “It’s my first year in the competition and I’m really excited to have made it this far. It’s great to compete against such brilliant chefs.”

George Blogg from Gravetye Manor said, “The differences this year between the young finalists were miniscule and the standards incredible. Everyone has been utterly brilliant today and they should all feel incredibly proud about what they have achieved.”

Said Tristan Mason, “I wish we could have put them all through as Grand Finalists as the standard was so incredibly high and it was such a close competition. Well done to everyone.”

Other categories in these sought-after awards include Sussex eating experience, food producer, drink producer, young Sussex farmer, food shop, butcher, farmers market, street food and newcomer of the year.  All Grand Finalists can now look forward to an exciting night of celebrations at ‘the Sussex Foodie event of the year’, the spectacular Sussex Food & Drink Awards Banquet on April 29 2020 at the Amex Stadium in Falmer, hosted by awards patron Sally Gunnell OBE and BBC’s Danny Pike, where the winners will be revealed and receive their trophies.

For more information about the awards and ticket sales go to https://sussexfoodawards.biz/awards-banquet/