Ashdown Park chefs cook up a contest storm

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There’s plenty cooking at Ashdown Park Hotel & Country Club with four young chefs taking part in some of the country’s top culinary challenges – with one passing the first stage with flying colours.

Apprentice chef Michael Cruickshank, who combines a work placement at Ashdown Park with catering studies, has reached the national finals of the Young Chefs Competition run by the international association of gastronomy, the Chaine des Rotisseurs.

The organisation encourages and supports the training of young chefs worldwide through the annual competition and Michael has been selected to take part in the finals being held in Hampshire on March 12.

Each finalist is given a basket of identical ingredients, which they will not see in advance, and use them to prepare a three-course meal. The winner goes forward to the international competition in Istanbul in September.

Michael and two colleagues, pastry chef Natasha Lewis and demi chef de partie Alex Floyd, have all entered the annual Awards of Excellence (AAE) run by the Academy of Culinary Arts, Britain’s leading professional hospitality association. The awards recognise talented young chefs, pastry chefs and waiters and Michael, Natasha and Alex have each submitted a suggestion for a menu suitable to serve in June and answered general food questions for the first round of the competition in April.

Completing the line-up, senior sous chef Paul O’Neil has entered the Roux Scholarship, regarded as the ultimate competition for British chefs and now in its 30th anniversary year.

From an ingredients’ list, including stone bass and squid, Paul submitted a menu that went before a panel of celebrity judges including Rick Stein and Heston Blumenthal. He is waiting to hear if he is chosen for regional finals on March 7 and the overall winner, who will receive a three-month placement at a three-star Michelin establishment, will be announced in London on March 25.

Andrew, who mentors local young chefs competing in the Sussex FutureChef competition, said: “I’m delighted four team members are taking part in these challenges and it’s exciting that Michael is already through to the finals of the Young Chef Competition. It is not about winning but gaining experience and confidence.”