Meet the seven finalists battling for the title of Norfolk Home Chef of the Year
- Credit: Matthew Usher
There's a brand new category at the EAT Norfolk Food and Drink Awards this year that celebrates the home chefs catering for the toughest audience of all: their friends and family. Judges at the cook-off competition were impressed by the talent on display.
They are the unsung heroes and heroines of the home kitchen, the fantastic chefs who operate from the heart of the house, producing fabulous food for family and friends every single day.
The EAT Norfolk Food and Drink Awards boasts a brand new category for 2018 and it shines a light on a previously-forgotten brigade of chefs in a bid to find the county's Home Chef of the Year.
Sponsored by The Richard Hughes Cookery School, based at The Assembly House in Norwich, the competition was whittled down to seven finalists who took part in a cook-off competition on Saturday.
Judged by Richard, Gary Hunter – who is vice-principal for culinary arts and hospitality at Westminster Kingsway College in London, the country's most prestigious culinary college – cookery writer Mary Kemp and Nichola Hicks, head of support services at the James Paget Hospital in Gorleston, seven amateur chefs were put through their paces.
Graham Page from Thorpe End, Alison Trigg from Carleton Rode, Mark Fitch from Norwich, Maria Randlesome from Tunstead, Frances Collins from Halvergate, Jane Cogman from Drayton and Kate Royall from Harleston were all challenged to cook the main course and dessert they had designed in two-and-a half-hours.
Each cook had been asked to submit two courses showcasing local produce or using a local or family recipe – ingredients chosen by the competitors included lobster, Cromer crab, Norfolk rhubarb, Norfolk cheeses, and Norfolk turkey.
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'I was looking for the truly great cooks who are the real stars of Norfolk's food scene, the people who cook day in, day out for the people they love, the home chefs in kitchens across the county,' said Richard, who is chef director of The Assembly House.
'We weren't looking for people who'd put smears of sauce on plates or use gels or dehumidifiers, what we wanted was the kind of food you want to come home to, and I'm pleased to say that that was exactly what we got.
'All the judges were hugely impressed by the contestants' passion for food and their love of cooking and we tried some truly spectacular dishes. It was difficult to choose our four finalists and there was a little bit of lively discussion between the judges following the cook-off!'
One contestant made her own ice-cream and pasta while another showcased her Family Pie, an ingenious combination of a roast dinner and pie that incorporated a British classic inside another British classic.
There was lobster cooked in two different ways, a duet of Norfolk turkeys, a chicken dish named for Prince Harry and another much-loved by children and grandchildren alike, a rhubarb Bakewell tart and a gooseberry crumble and a 'drunken' crème brulee made with Norfolk Sloe Company raspberry liqueur.
Judges enjoyed a ginger cheesecake inspired by a contestant's husband, a lemon and elderflower courgette cake inspired by a Royal Wedding and
a panettone bread and butter pudding inspired by the Italians. It was, said judge Mary Kemp, quite a feast.
'It's great to see so much enthusiasm for cooking,' she said, 'and one of the contestants made what I'd consider to be my absolute perfect pudding.'
Jane Cogman said that there had been a spirit of camaraderie in the cookery school kitchen and that contestants had bonded almost immediately and made plans to meet in the future to cook for each other.
'I think we were all a bit nervous when we arrived but then we sat together for a while and from that moment on it was absolutely lovely,' she said.
'Our dishes have all been so different but what was the same was the fact that we all love to cook and share our food. It has been such a lot of fun.'
Four finalists will be chosen from the cook-off and invited to the EAT Norfolk Food and Drink Awards celebration night on September 10 at OPEN in Norwich where the overall winner and EAT Norfolk Home Chef of the Year will be crowned.
Menu: Roasted Norfolk turkey stuffed with Beehive Butchery sausagemeat, wrapped in Parma Ham with roasted Norfolk carrots, sautéed leeks and crispy saddleback potatoes. Home-made Panettone bread and butter pudding with cream.
Born in Sprowston and now living in Thorpe End, Graham loves cooking and food, in particular savoury dishes ('my wife normally takes care of dessert!').
When guests come for dinner, it's Graham's signature monkfish dish they're most hoping to see on their plates: wrapped in Parma ham with pesto and if they're lucky, they might also get to try his favourite starter, a trio of different fish dishes.
'I was really interested in giving the competition a go and pushing myself a bit,' said Graham, 'it was a bit nerve-wracking and I was worried about timing, but in the end it was fine and I really enjoyed myself.
'I really like turkey - I think it's a little bit underrated and people think it should only come out at Christmas, but we like to eat it all year round.'
Menu: Spicy Norfolk turkey mince served with wild and basmati rice. Norfolk rhubarb Bakewell tart with orange ice cream.
Alison lives in Carleton Rode near Wymondham and decided to enter the Home Chef competition because she enjoys challenging herself.
'I like to do different things and so when I saw the competition, I thought 'why not?'' she said, 'I was really surprised and pleased when I received the email that invited me to come and cook.
'I love cooking and baking, which is my passion. I always make cakes for people and last year I made my first three-tier wedding cake which meant I had to learn a whole lot of new skills. I really enjoyed it.'
Alison's son Charles' favourite cake which his Mum bakes is her coffee and walnut cake ('I like it too, and I don't like coffee,' she said, 'I find that even if people hate coffee they'll still eat the cake!') and she enjoys using seasonal produce in her food.
'I tend to make it up as I go along,' she laughed, 'I particularly like cooking for my husband Michael as not only is he a good cook too, but he also appreciates the art of cooking.'
Alison said she hoped to meet up with the other contestants for a 'tasting evening' where everyone would bring some food for a Home Chef feast: 'Everyone was so lovely – we just clicked straight away. We were all like-minded cooks!'
Menu: Duo of lobster (thermidor and fishcake) with asparagus and foaming hollandaise. Drunken raspberry crème brulee.
Mark, who lives in Norwich, was keen to enter the Home Chef competition as soon as he saw it advertised.
'I thought: 'wow, I've got to do it!'' said the keen home cook who first started cooking when he left home to go to university.
'I was lucky, because I lived with two students in the food industry, Stuart and Kathryn, who now run their own peanut butter company, Proper Nutty, and who helped me hone my skills!
'I love cooking from scratch and my signature dish is my own kind of lasagna which is made with chilli, creamy chicken and Mexican flatbreads instead of pasta.
'I can't remember a time when I didn't like eating lobster. My parents would take me cockling and shrimping off Heacham beach as a child – I like the patience needed to extricate each piece of meat from the shell.
'I also wanted to include ingredients from two personal food heroes of mine, Mrs Temple, whose Binham Blue and Wells Alpine cheese I used and Patrick and Sarah Saunders who own the Norfolk Sloe Company, whose raspberry liqueur I used in the crème brulee.'
Mark said that his biggest issue during the cook off was realising he didn't have enough gas for his blowtorch and having to make a last-minute dash to his garage for extra butane supplies.
Menu: My family pie. Ginger cheesecake.
Pie fan Maria has a knack for pastry (and scones: she's a two-time winner of the prestigious Wroxham Barns' Scone competition) and is famed for her pie creations, particularly by children Holeigh, Hayden, Hallam and Evie and husband David.
'It was Evie who begged me to enter the competition,' said Maria, 'she saw it in the paper and said 'you've GOT to enter! Your cooking is lovely!' And David always says that he married me because of my cooking, so I thought I'd give it a go!'
Maria's competition pie arose from a love of family Sunday roasts…and pies. Put the two together and you have a roast in a pie.
'I make my own pastry and have done so since I was a little girl – it's a recipe and technique which has been passed down through generations, all the way back to my great-grandmother. The key is not to handle it too much,' she said.
'I've taught all my children to cook and they're all good. My youngest, Evie, who is nine, loves to cook with me and can make pork escalopes and all sorts.
'I cook everything from scratch. People think cooking is really hard, but it's not and it's so much healthier if you cook your own food. I just love it.'
Menu: Seared chicken with turmeric, oregano and ginger with charred red peppers, new potatoes and green salad. Gooseberry crumble with mascarpone cream.
Children Sam, Tom, Emily and Will entered their Mum for Home Chef of the Year: surely one of the most glowing endorsement of family cooking you can imagine.
'I woke up and thought 'I can't go through with it!' but then I thought that I had to do it for my four children and five grandchildren,' said Frances, shortly after handing judges her two dishes.
'I was nervous before I came, but as soon as I met everyone else I relaxed because they were so nice. The biggest issue is making sure you finish everything at the right time, which is harder when you're not in your own kitchen!
'I'm no Michel Roux but my family like my cooking and that's what matters!'
Frances draws inspiration from magazines, newspapers and cookbooks and adapts recipes to suit the ingredients she has and what her family enjoys eating.
Her one-pot winter wonders are particularly popular with family members and her apple crumble was always a firm family favourite.
Menu: Dauphin de Poulet. Lemon and elderflower with a courgette twist cake served with lemon and elderflower ice cream.
Cooking is such a big part of Jane's life that she's just added a large extension to her kitchen so that her family can join her as she creates another delicious meal.
Jane, who lives in Drayton, often holds what she calls 'Come Cook with Jane' days when she invites friends to choose a menu using unusual or little-used ingredients and then invites them to share the resulting meal with her at a dinner party.
'My mission is to continually challenge myself, both with sourcing fresh ingredients, experimenting with flavours that perhaps might not be considered natural compaions and creating unique dishes that blend unexpected flavour combinations,' she said.
'I am passionate about food and love to cook.'
Jane's menu was inspired by a regal occasion held earlier this year.
'I held a house party for the recent Royal Wedding and have always been inspired by what is not only available locally, but also what is 'flavour of the month', or on trend,' she said.
'I wanted to do a family dish using succulent ingredients for what I called Dauphin de Poulet in honour of Prince Harry, followed by a dessert inspired by the Royal Wedding cake.'
Menu: Cromer crab ravioli. Strawberry and buttermilk ice cream with shortbread.
Norfolk-born Kate has a passion for life in the countryside and lives and works on a cattle farm in Harleston with her husband.
'I am always gardening and love to cook,' said Kate, 'I have a vegetable garden at home and aim to cook with seasonal ingredients either grown myself or sourced from local producers. I love hosting friends and family for lunches, summer barbecues and dinner parties.'
Kate said that she enjoyed the process of cooking as much as the eating of the end product and would therefore happily spend the necessary time to make, for example, her own pasta and ice-cream.
'It is extra effort, but I think it means you appreciate what you've cooked more,' she said.
'I think it's a really nice idea to offer people who aren't in the industry the chance to show what they can do in the kitchen. There are lots of people who cook incredible meals at home and competitions such as this let people know that it is appreciated.'
Kate said that she had enjoyed cooking with the other competitors and working in a professional kitchen, with one caveat: 'You know where everything is at home and exactly how the oven works!'
* For more information about The Richard Hughes Cookery School, visit www.richardhughescookeryschool.co.uk