Local Sussex ingredients were showcased at their best in the spring menus of six superb young Sussex chefs who took part in a sizzling ‘MasterChef’ style cook off at the Greater Metropolitan College in Brighton yesterday [Monday 11 March].  Celebrating ten years since the Sussex Young Chef of the Year category was introduced to the Sussex Food & Drink Awards, the 2019 competition was stronger than ever to decide the winner of this coveted title, sponsored by Blakes Foods.

Dan Ibbotson from etch. in Brighton & Hove, Isabella Raccagna from Farmer, Butcher, Chef in Goodwood, West Sussex and Charlie Simmons 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 May 15 2019 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 three chefs competing were Lucas Fielding from The Cat Inn in West Hoathly, Ben Lippett from 64 Degrees in Brighton & Hove and Ben Welfare from The Preston Park Tavern in Brighton & Hove. All six chefs were presented with a SuperFast Thermapen® goodie bag 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 from Electro Pirate, who was 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 in Brighton and sponsor and former restaurateur Adrian Burr 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 third year involved in this incredible competition and I’ve been thrilled to welcome Tristan and George along with Fran and Adrian to make up this highly regarded judging panel. What a fantastic experience for these young chefs.

“To put your own thoughts down on paper and bring them to life under pressure isn’t easy.  The Sussex Food & Drink Awards are a great platform in this tough industry and this competition offers a unique 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 today as well as the sourcing and creativity of ingredients used, the balance and mix of the dishes, workmanship and food hygiene.

Said Adrian Burr, “There wasn’t a single dish that failed to impress us today which has resulted in a remarkably close final. These chefs should feel incredibly proud of what they have achieved and I am delighted that Blakes Foods is sponsoring this fantastic category.”

At just 19 years old, Dan Ibbotson from etch. in Brighton & Hove was the youngest chef in the cook off and he produced some incredibly impressive dishes including a mouthwatering fish starter of local Sussex gurnard, cockles, dill and horseradish sauce which hit all the right notes. His main dish was pork rump from Lancing with artichoke and wild garlic followed by a delicious pear dessert with honey and coriander. Said Dan, “It was surprisingly challenging today, especially in an unfamiliar kitchen space so I am thrilled with the results and delighted to be going through as a Grand Finalist.”

Isabella Raccagna, 22 yrs old from Farmer, Butcher, Chef at the Goodwood Estate in West Sussex was the only girl competing this year serving up a sublime starter of red cabbage and Sussex bream.  For main course she produced a beautifully presented pan-fried lady steak from the Goodwood Estate with baby artichokes, mushrooms and Levindown cheese followed by a show stopping dessert of rosemary infused apples. Said Isabella, “To me food is all about the flavour and I’m absolutely ecstatic that I have made it through to the top three. I can’t wait for the banquet in May and I’m just thrilled the judges enjoyed the dishes I served up today.”

“I’m just so so happy and really proud that I did justice to this beautiful Sussex produce today,” said 21-year-old Charlie Simmons from Rathfinny Tasting Room in Alfriston, East Sussex who served a delicious Sussex haddock smokie with spinach puree, nettles, coddled egg, pickled Alexander and cheddar espuma. His main was a superb Saddlescombe aged beef sirloin with wild garlic salsa verde, artichoke puree, crispy bone marrow, Sussex purple broccoli, cavolo nero and beef sauce and for dessert he produced a stunning rose poached rhubarb with white chocolate and Rathfinny sparkling rose espuma.

George Blogg from Gravetye Manor said, “Everyone has been utterly brilliant today. There was nothing weak or average presented to us and all of these talented young chefs have surpassed my expectations. They should all feel incredibly proud at 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.

Highly respected food blogger and designer, Fran Villani said, “As a diner, I’m hugely excited at what I have tasted today and seeing the exciting future of Sussex chefs. It has honestly been fantastic to experience the quality of ingredients and feel the passion about using local produce. Sussex is in very safe hands.”

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 May 15 2019 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.