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West College Scotland has been handed the UK Young Seafood Chef title following the grand final at Grimsby Institute.
This year’s standard was declared “higher than ever” by judges, who struggled to separate the winner and runner-up Kendal College.
Nine colleges competed in the final, which was sponsored by Seafish, Young’s Seafood, Robot Coupe, Russums, Oak Ridge Group, Koppert Cress and the Big Prawn Company.
However West College Scotland’s Sagar Massey (19) and Jamie Cracknell (21) impressed with their innovative cookery, preparing dishes such as cooked pickled herring and roast monkfish.
The pair took home approximately £6,000 of prizes, including a culinary trip sponsored by Koppert Cress, a Robot Cook Professional Heating Food Processor by Robot-Coupe, a £1,000 Russums voucher for their college, £500 each and a cookbook.
Judges for this year’s competition included Michelin-starred chef Galton Blackiston, of Morston Hall in Morston3, George McIvor, Chairman of the Master Chefs of Great Britain, Nikki Hawkins, Events Manager at Seafish, Serge Nollent, Product Group Development Manager at Young’s and Franck Pontais, Private Chef and Food Consultant.
Nikki Hawkins, from Seafish, commented: “The standard this year has been higher than ever.
“Instead of deliberating for the usual 15 or 20 minutes, judges took nearly an hour to decide on a winner. That’s how close it was.”
Speaking about the competition’s ongoing success, she added: “A lot of the competitors and lecturers have said to me this is like a family competition.
“We take them out on study tours and get to know them, and they get to know each other too. The atmosphere is very much ‘may the best man win’ and not ‘I’m better than you’.
“It’s a very friendly competition and the prizes are among the best in the country, so we’re very grateful for the support of our sponsors.”
Fellow judge George McIvor also commented: “I think it’s brilliant for youngsters to have the opportunities and bravery to enter competitions like this. It can only be of great experience for them, it didn’t really happen in my day.
“It’s important to use sustainable fish and the innovation that young ones can bring to using the fish. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s produced here today.”
And Galton Blackiston, a celebrity chef who has a Michelin star to his name, said the competition was one of the “tightest” he had ever judged.
“I have judged quite a few competitions in my time and none have been as tight as that. It came down to ridiculously finite details.
“For me, the standard was so high, and I was very relieved at the end when the decision was made because I really couldn’t split them.”
He added: “Last year from the competition I took two young people from Llandeilo and they now work in the five star Gleneagles hotel in Scotland.
“That came from an opportunity of speaking to me at the competition and it has transformed their lives, they are now working in a two Michelin star restaurant.
“Seafood is part of my life and I love getting my hands dirty and sharing my knowledge.”
Competition winners Jamie and Sagar said they were “overwhelmed” by the result.
“We weren’t expecting it at all. We’ve had a really good insight from lecturers over the year, who have really helped us onto the right path.”
And it was third time lucky for Sagar, who added: “I was third two years ago and got a merit last year, so it’s an awesome feeling to finally win.”