Having said, I wasn’t going, I did.
I’d cried: “Oh for a baby-sitter…” and my prayers were answered thanks to my lovely friend Wendy (she even said my kids were lovely)!
The thought of a four course dinner on a Monday night is pretty compelling, but the intriguing idea that this evening would be a fine catering ‘cook-off’ made it completely irresistible. Having been shortlisted from 13 or more restaurants that had submitted menus, six teams, from six very different Cornish restaurants were to cook 4 courses cooked for two tables of guests each. Every menu had to include a fish course and a the main course of pork.
Each of the six competing restaurants’ food was judged by two of Cornwall’s most celebrated chefs, Nathan Outlaw and Paul Ainsworth, who were joined by Jon Waterhouse, pastry and bakery specialist at Cornwall College. Jon had to step in at the last-minute after Paul Ripely, who was to be the third judge, had a car breakdown.
However, not just the food was on show, the whole ensemble from the table decorations and presentation to the front of house service was also closely scrutinised by ‘front of house’ experts Lorna Dunstan of Cornwall College and Andrea Callis of Fowey Hotel who marked the teams on their service skills.
The competing chefs were given a tight three and a half hours to produce a four course meal, which focused on seasonal Cornish ingredients. With up to four chefs on each team, plus front of house staff to set up tables and serve guests, it was a busy and tense evening for them.
I sat on The Green Lawns table, but like a fool forgot to bring a camera so I’ve no record o show you what I ate.
The first course was a little bit of rabbit with a three bean sauce. It was delicious but the plate – an elegant dish with a tiny bowl to hold the food but an enormous rim to frame it – was impractical for getting a knife and fork into it so they should have given me a spoon. Sadly, I’m the type who puts functionality ahead of style.
The fish course consisted of a lobster ravioli and three of the most delicious scallops. There was plenty of soupy sauce which I would have loved to have mopped up with bread, but I’d already used my bread for the first course in lieu of a spoon. Doh!
The main course was divine with pork served in numerous ways. It was delicate and pretty and I was pretty confident that with food like that, then the Green Lawns should have had the competition in the bag.
The final dish was a honey mead pannacotta on a little square of carrot cake poised over on hazelnuts, but the decoration of this whole ensemble was exquisite …This was when I really kicked myself for the lack of a camera. All of us sat for a few minutes taking in the whole ensemble in.
Nathan, recently awarded two coveted Michelin Stars at the eponymous Restaurant Nathan Outlaw at the St Enodoc Hotel in Rock, told guests he was pleased to be part of the event. “I have been a judge for the last couple of years and every year the standard increases. It is great to see these motivated teams experimenting with the possibilities offered by the outstanding produce we have on our doorstep.”
Paul Ainsworth, chef-proprietor of No. 6 in Padstow, who will shortly be representing the region on hit BBC series The Great British Menu, gave guests an idea of what he was looking for: “It has to be about flavour: good seasoning and simplicity I think will be the key.”
It couldn’t have been a tighter contest. After front of house marks had been added, there was only one point in it and The Ferry Boat Inn on the Helford River were runners-up. Chefs Ben Lightfoot and Robert Bunny were delighted. “It has been a challenging evening and we have had some hurdles to overcome, but we are really pleased to have got so close. We haven’t been together as a team for long so it’s onwards and upwards from here.” The judges were impressed by the individual touches the Ferry Boat chefs bought to each of their dishes, and the front of house team also scored highly.
However it was the young team from the Rose-in-Vale, lead by Head Chef Colin Hankins, who triumphed overall. Their menu featured pressed lobster ravioli with seared scallops, pork belly with homemade black pudding, and baked dark chocolate and hazelnut tart with milk ice cream. Afterwards, Nathan said, “These guys worked as a team, and it really showed through in the final product. They put a lot of thought into their vegetarian dishes and everything was well executed and showed good technique.” Paul Ainsworth added, “There were some outstanding individual dishes from all the teams. However consistency won the day. Everything from the Rose-in-Vale was of a high standard.” The winning team were thrilled with their trophy and prize money of £100 each, plus vouchers worth £500. However, for Head Chef Colin Hankins it was the recognition which was most welcome. “We are so pleased that all our hard work has paid off. It has been really special to cook for Nathan and Paul and I think this competition will inspire us to new heights.”
The Cornish Challenge is run by Cornwall Catering Excellence, a partnership of seven long-standing Cornish family businesses and Cornwall College, who work together to promote the best of Cornish hospitality and encourage businesses to boost the local economy by choosing local suppliers.