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Culinary talent on display in the Junior Chef of Wales final

Welsh Culinary Association National Chef of Wales Competition at the ICC Wales. Picture by Phil Blagg Photography.

Blossoming Welsh culinary talent was on display as eight chefs put their skills to the test in the final of the Junior Chef of Wales competition on Tuesday, January 23.

The final was held on the second day of the Welsh International Culinary Championships (WICC) organised by the Culinary Association of Wales and hosted by the International Convention Centre Wales (ICC Wales), Newport.

Last year’s runner-up Abbie Williams, a learner at Coleg y Cymoedd’s Nantgarw Campus, is hoping to go one better this time, after competing against seven young rivals from across Wales.

The other finalists included Katie Duffy, chef at The Halfway, Llanelli, who was competing in the final for the third time. Debutants were Ged Jones, chef de partie at Carden Park Hotel, near Chester; Dylan Evans, commis chef at Henrock, Windermere; Rhys Yorath, chef de partie at Llanerch Vineyard, Hensol; Aizel Reyes, commis chef at The Celtic Collection, Newport; Rosie Koffer, chef de partie at Chartists 1770 at The Trewythen, Llanidloes and Sam Everton, a lecturer at Coleg Ceredigion in Cardigan and part-time junior sous chef at Y Seler, Aberaeron.

The junior chefs had three hours to cook a creative, two course dinner for six people, with a starter suitable for a vegetarian diet and a main course using two different cuts of GI Welsh Beef. A minimum of four Welsh GI products had to be used in the dishes. 

The winner, who will be announced at the WICC Awards dinner tonight (Wednesday), will get an automatic seeding in the semi-final of the Craft Guild of Chefs’ 2024 UK Young National Chef of the Year competition. 

They will also have an opportunity to attend the Worldchefs Congress and Expo 2026 at ICC Wales and win a set of engraved Friedr Dick competition knives and £100 of Churchill products. The 2024 WICC is the launchpad for Wales hosting the Worldchefs Congress and Expo 2026.

Katy was “very happy” with her dishes, describing it as the best of her three final performances. “Everything went to plan and on time,” she said. “This time I cooked the beef perfectly, I felt in control and the plating was neat and organised.”

Sadly, Abbie mistimed the cooking of her Welsh beef pithivier for the main course, running 27 minutes over time. “I was very pleased with my starter but I could have done better with my main course. It was just the timing of the beef.”

Ged, 19, from Connahs Quay, said: “I felt like it went well and I enjoyed the final. My starter could have been better but I was really happy with the main course.”

Dylan, who is from Menai Bridge but currently works in the Lake District, said: “I was happy with my starter but then the beef threw me off with the main course because I forgot to temper it after taking it out of the fridge. It was a good challenge.”

Rhys, 20, from Porth, said: “I am happy and it was a good experience, but I feel the standard of my dishes could have been better.”

Aizel, a University College Birmingham student on placement at The Celtic Collection, went back to her Philippines roots with her two dishes. “It was definitely exciting for our first competition ever,” she said. “I am happy with my dishes and I enjoyed the competition.”

Rosie said: “It was my first time competing other than as a commis and it has been a good experience. I am happy with my dishes but feel it could have gone better.”

Sam, 25, said: “I think we did very well and I am happy with the dishes. Everything that we trained for, we put on the plate. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so for me to be happy, it must have gone well.”

The finalists’ menus were:

Katy Duffy’s starter was Caerphilly and Teifi smoked cheese douphinoise, sherry vinegar gel sauce soubise, Welsh black truffle and crispy onion. Main course was roasted Welsh Beef fillet, beef shin cottage tart, salt baked celeriac, parsley emulsion, roast leek puree and sauce bordelaise.

Abbie Williams’ starter was applewood and rosemary smoked ricotta, black olive, peas, herbs, herb liquor and pea sorbet. Main course was Welsh beef pithivier, oxtail and mushroom, duxelles, lovage puree, bone marrow bordelaise and beef fat carrots.

Ged Jones’ starter was Per las mille feuille with celery, hazelnuts, rar and a watercress veloute. Main course was cured and roasted Welsh beef fillet with braised ox cheek, crushed Pembrokeshire potato and leek terrine, spring onion, beetroot and pickled onion cups.

Dylan Evans’ starter was Welsh rarebit with sourdough croutons, cider braised leeks, barbecued leeks, Welsh potato rarebit sauce and crispy potato skins. Main course was Welsh Beef sirloin roasted and rested in its own fat on a Welsh grain and mushroom ragout, topped with horseradish glazed kales and a beef sauce, with ox cheek doughnut, truffle pure lardo and grated Welsh truffle on the side.

Rhys Yorath’s starter of raviolo of Welsh egg and truffle, Jerusalem artichoke, confit garlic and kale. Main course was pan roasted Welsh Beef rib, glazed cheek, celeriac, salsify and sauce polvarde.

Aizel Reyes went back to her Philippines roots to cook a starter of vegetarian dumplings from scratch with dipping chili oil. Main course was Asian style Welsh Beef sirloin steak, butternut squash puree, beef bon bon, tender stem broccoli, glazed carrots and red wine jus.

Rosie Koffer’s starter was leek and Caerphilly tartlet, toasted walnuts and red onion jam. Main course was PGI striploin, braised shoulder, wild mushroom, baby onion and red wine jus.

Sam Everton’s starter of potato salad comprised laverbread gnocchi, infused root vegetables, Caerphilly cheese, toasted turnip top and watercress veloute. Main course was a celebration of Welsh Beef with locally sourced sirloin, braised beef cheek, textures of mushroom and onion and truffled beef reduction.

Headline sponsors of the WICC are the Welsh Government, Castell Howell, Hybu Cig Cymru/ Meat Promotion Wales, ICC Wales, Cambrian Training Company, Kentaur, Churchill, MCS Technical Products, Roller Grill, Radnor Hills, Dick Knifes, Cygnet Gin, Capital Cuisine and Ecolab.

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