Young chefs battle it out in Sussex Food and Drink Awards cook off

Local Sussex ingredients were showcased in the spring menus of five young Sussex chefs who took part in a sizzling ‘MasterChef’ style cook-off at the Greater Metropolitan College in Brighton yesterday (March 2).

Judges, Ben Milford (far left) and Matt Gillan (far right) with the Sussex Young Chef of the Year Grand Finalists 2020 - Freddie Innes, Dan Ibbotson and Tom Thwaites
Judges, Ben Milford (far left) and Matt Gillan (far right) with the Sussex Young Chef of the Year Grand Finalists 2020 - Freddie Innes, Dan Ibbotson and Tom Thwaites

The Sussex Young Chef of the Year 2020 category of Sussex Food & Drink Awards was stronger than ever, with a battle to decide the winner of this title.

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

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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.

Tom Thwaites, Charlie Simmons, Joe Murphy, Dan Ibbotson and Freddie Innes at the Sussex Young Chef of the Year 2020 Cook Off

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, and Charlie Simmons from The Pass at South Lodge Hotel in Lower Beeding.

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 impressed with the quality and professionalism shown by the young chefs.

Mr Gillan said: “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.”

Dan Ibbotson, Grand Finalist for Sussex Young Chef of the Year 2020

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.

Mr Milford said: “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, 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 dessert using Braeburn apple, elderflower and goat's milk.

Freddie Innes, Grand Finalist for Sussex Young Chef of the Year 2020

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, 25, from Ockenden Manor Hotel, Cuckfield produced Balcombe Estate Wood pigeon 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, 23, from Rathfinny Tasting Room in Alfriston, 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 Thwaites, Grand Finalist for Sussex Young Chef of the Year 2020

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 minuscule and the standards incredible. Everyone has been utterly brilliant today and they should all feel incredibly proud about what they have achieved.”

Tristan Mason said: “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 the 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 a night of celebrations at ‘the Sussex foodie event of the year’, the 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 tickets, visit: sussexfoodawards.biz/awards-banquet