The Northern Ireland final of the prestigious FutureChef school’s competition, developed by Springboard and supported by Henderson Foodservice, will see five young and ambitious cooks face off against each other in the kitchen, judged by celebrity chef Jean-Christophe Novelli.
Joining Jean-Christophe and bringing their knowledge of homegrown produce and NI tastes to the judging panel, are owner of the Deane’s restaurant empire Michael Deane and Food Development Chef at Henderson Foodservice Geoff Baird.
Michael Deane has had some of Northern Ireland’s top chefs learn their craft in his restaurants, including James Devine, owner of No.47 in Cookstown and mentor of one of the young finalists for the February 10 competition.
2021 saw hundreds of young cooks battle it out, creating dishes hoping to make the Northern Ireland final of the competition.
Olivia Drain from Ballymena Academy, Michael Thompson from Campbell College, Ewan McCandless from Wallace High School, Kristen Nugent from St Ciaran’s College, and Faith Belshaw from Newtownhamilton High School have made it to the final and have been mentored by some of the finest chefs to come from these shores.
Chris Bell, John Clark, Chris McGowan, James Devine and Colleen Lennon have championed the young chefs alongside chef Geoff, who works with hundreds of restaurants and hospitality venues across Ireland in his role with Henderson Foodservice, the NI-based company which supplies to restaurants, cafes, schools and hospitals throughout the island.
Geoff commented: “By our very nature, chefs have passion, and that is what we are all looking for when it comes to these FutureChef finalists.
“I have seen each young cook in this competition consider every detail of their dish, the flavours, how to use every part of their ingredient to reduce waste and to always source their produce and ingredients locally.
“It’s that passion for local food which can make the Northern Ireland finalists stand out, and it will be very tough to choose a winner out of these five!
“I know that whoever goes through to the grand final in London will represent everything that is great about Northern Ireland hospitality – taste, passion, provenance and something that is truly unique in the world.”
Each finalist will step into their future chef roles on the day, wearing full chef whites provided by Henderson Foodservice, to really look and feel the part.
Celebrity chef Jean-Christophe Novelli, who will jet back to Belfast to taste-test the final round of cooking, added: “Springboard’s FutureChef is a fantastic initiative.
“It is a great way to inspire the younger generation into exploring and developing their culinary skills.
“I am extremely excited and privileged to be part of the judging for this year’s competition and cannot wait to discover the talent of the next generation.”
And the guest judge for this year’s NI final, Michael Deane, added: “I’ve had the pleasure of serving great local food in my restaurants for over 30 years now and have had some exceptional talent in my kitchens.
“I’m really excited to see what the next generation of chefs from Northern Ireland are bringing to the table and wish the finalists the best of luck for the final.”
The Northern Ireland FutureChef final will take place at Belfast Met’s Titanic Quarter campus on Thursday, February 10, and the winner will go on to represent Northern Ireland against other UK regions in March.
Caitriona Lennox, Northern Ireland Manager at Springboard, added: “What a fantastic competition we have had in Northern Ireland so far, showcasing the talent that is to come for our hospitality industry alongside some of our top professional chefs.
“FutureChef is Springboard’s flagship educational programme and is dedicated to nurturing and sustaining the workforce of the hospitality industry, alongside a range of employability programmes designed to help young people build skills and confidence to kickstart a career in the sector.
“Our young chefs have been inspired by their professional chef mentors – learning new skills and creating new dishes, and we can’t wait to see who our NI winner is to go forward to the UK-wide final in March.”
n Since the FutureChef competition began in 1999, almost 200,000 young people aged 12-16 have taken part and learned how to cook, developing their skills and knowledge with many going on to establish themselves within the industry.
Throughout this time the competition has progressed and developed to form part of the overall FutureChef programme which offers industry links, online resources, module learning, careers advice and guidance, and a suite of teacher resources.
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