Two Ballymena Academy pupils are the 2018 Mount Charles Big School Cook Off champions with their prizewinning dish.
Catherine Chesney and Katherine Stronge produced Gracehill black pudding and apple stuffed Moy Park chicken breasts wrapped in Flynn’s bacon for the competition held at Belfast Metropolitan College, Titantic Quarter Campus.
The Mount Charles Big School Cook Off in association with the Irish News and Business in the Community was launched to inspire secondary school pupils to think about healthy eating and food provenance, and to encourage them to consider a future career in the hospitality industry.
The team from Ballymena Academy was one of 52 shortlisted teams of pupils aged between 11-14, from schools across Northern Ireland and Donegal to compete in regional heats.
Each team was asked to cook a main course for two people, based on local produce and with a budget of £5 per meal.
Gillian Douglas, head of home economics at Ballymena Academy said: “I am so proud of both girls. They did themselves and the entire school community proud. All the practice, practice and more practice paid off in the end.”
The finalists were scored on the presentation of the dish, the overall taste and their teamwork skills by competition judges Simon Toye, Group Development Chef at Mount Charles, Ciaran Drain Head Chef at University Ulster and Caitriona Lennox, Big School Cook Off Ambassador, also at Mount Charles.
Caitriona commented: “This is the second year of the Big School Cook Off and the standard continues to blow us away. Well done to Catherine and Katherine, from Ballymena Academy.
“The team ticked all the boxes and created a dish that would not look out of place in any leading local restaurant.”
The young cooks won a trophy, £300 for their school and a family meal at George’s of The Market restaurant and tickets to the Belfast Giants ice hockey team at the SSE Arena.
Each team that made it to the grand final won £200 for their school and a masterclass in cookery from Mount Charles Group Development Chef, Simon Toye, previously Executive Chef at the Michelin-starred Deanes restaurant in Belfast.
“The atmosphere today was incredible. Even for the most experienced chefs competition conditions can be daunting but every one of the eight teams here today embraced the pressure and presented dishes that they should be very proud of.
“This inspiration for this competition is the opportunity to ignite excitement in young people about cooking as well as to promote the use of our spectacular local produce. It also allows us to position a career in hospitality as both a viable and exciting option. I certainly see some future Mount Charles employees in the kitchen today.
“I’d like to thank the Belfast Metropolitan College for hosting the competition today in their state of the art Titanic Quarter Campus.” she added.
Belfast Met’s Centre for Hospitality Curriculum Area Manager, Aiveen Cassidy, commented: “We were thrilled to host The Big School Cook Off in our Linen Lounge kitchens this year and I was really impressed by the standards displayed. Belfast Met is a centre for excellence in terms of cookery, catering and hospitality training and I am delighted that so many young people got the chance to demonstrate and hone their cooking skills in our top class facilities at our Titanic Quarter campus.
“Congratulations to everyone who participated - hopefully we will be seeing some of you again when you embark on the next stage of your career by enrolling on one of our professional cookery courses.”
John Brolly, marketing manager at the Irish News said:“The passion of the finalists for food and cooking was simply amazing. Their recipes were inspiring which made them extremely hard to separate in terms of taste and presentation. I would like to congratulate all the pupils, schools and teachers as it was really refreshing to watch the students balance so many different skills - attention to detail, teamwork and time management as well as work-flow.”