There were a few quiet tears but no tantrums – the heats of the Golden Apron 2014, the search for Yorkshire’s best young chef, were remarkably calm events.
Fourteen youngsters aged between 14 and 19 from right across the region were shortlisted for the first heats, with eight competing in each. They were chosen on the strength of their application, in which they had to describe their recipe using British pork: the Golden Apron is co-organised by The Pipe and Glass and the Yorkshire Wolds Cookery School, and sponsored by pig-farming specialists JSR, Cranswick plc and Sainsbury’s.
Then came the nerve-wracking bit – actually cooking their recipe at the Cookery School for a panel of judges comprising James, JSR chair Tim Rymer and Katie Angood from Cranswick.
“Bearing in mind the youth of the contestants, the standard was incredibly high,” said James.
But six of the contestants had to leave at this stage, so we said goodbye to Jacob Barker from Barlby, Nina Brown from Grimsby, Maisie Delaney from Cleethorpes, Matthew Gilbert from Selby, Paige Huckin from Willerby and Jack Hughes from York.
A fortnight later, the remaining eight – Zacharias Abbot and Tom Hull from York, Jake Fawcett from Wakefield, Annabella Jones from Barnsley, Tom Kerridge (no, not that one!) from Scunthorpe, Oliver Robinson from Otley, Georgie Smithson-Brown from Great Hatfield, near Hornsea, and Daniel Walters from Kirk Ella reassembled at the school to cook for one of three places in the final.
This time, they were given two hours in which to produce their own version of two of James’ favourite recipes: salmon tartare with hot smoked salmon scotch egg and pickled samphire, followed by forced Yorkshire rhubarb with parkin and rum chantilly.
There were a few interesting little twists – the judges particularly liked Oliver’s presentation of his pudding in a teacup.After manfully eating their way through eight lots of salmon tartare and eight portions of rhubarb and parkin, and a long discussion on the finer points of seasoning and presentation, the judges reached a decision – the finalists were 14-year-old Georgie, a pupil at Hornsea School; 15-year-old Oliver, who attends Prince Henry’s Grammar School, and studies hospitality and cookery once a week on day release at Leeds City College; and 18-year-old Jake, who is studying for a Level 3 Diploma in Advanced Professional Cookery at Wakefield College.
Announcing the finalists, James said: “You all produced really nice food, and it all looked beautiful – it was really difficult to decide on the three semi-finalists.“I’d be happy to have any of the semi-finalists on work experience in the Pipe and Glass kitchen.”Jake said: “Winning the Golden Apron would be a great start to my career – I hope to open my own restaurant one day.”Oliver reached the semi-finals of the competition last year, and was delighted to have got a stage further: “It feels great – it means that I’m developing as a chef,” he said.
And for George Smithson-Brown, reaching the final was all a bit overwhelming – through tears she paid tribute to her main culinary inspiration, her grandma. “I’ve learned such a lot from her,” she said, adding: “I’ve never worked in a professional kitchen before – I’m really looking forward to it.”