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Cordon Vert Cookery School vegetarian cook-off final won

And so we approach the end of Vegetarian Week, which has been a huge success, by all accounts. And none would have felt success more than Gary Ashley, the winner of this year’s Chef of the Future award, announced by Cordon Vert, the Vegetarian Society’s cookery school earlier this month.

The criteria for the finalists was twofold. First and foremost, the competition entrants had to produce a three course menu that would be both appetising and palatable for vegetarians and/or vegans. Once the shortlist was drawn up for the final, the three savvy chefs chosen would then have to prepare those meals in a live cook-off event on the 9th May at The Vegetarian Society in Altrincham.

As Gary was from Southampton, he had to make sure that the trip up to Cheshire was worth while, especially having made the same journey to the cookery school last year, only to finish runner up on that occasion. Therefore, he knew the level of talent he’d be cooking against and that the ingredients he used would have to be wide ranging, complementary and enough to get even a hearty meat-eaters taste buds tingling.

The starter alone would have taken the layman a term of cookery courses to put together; it infused a mixture of tapas that you would be hard-pushed to find anything like, strolling along the coastline of Torviscas Playa, and was a galaxy of tastes, including wild mushroom and sweet potato beefed up with a sprinkle of cumin to name just two of the servings on offer. Certainly not your Spanish locale tapas, for sure.

The main course, however, did incorporate a taste of The Med. Vegetables from the region were combined with cous cous, spinach and roast pepper and even a coriander fritter alongside fruit and nuts to contrast the bitter tasting veg. Then he prepared not just one but three desserts, again combining tastes yet varying texture to wow the judges and cement his first prize.

After the event, Ashley said the award was “the most prestigious accolade of [his] career”, an award that was given based upon, according to Cordon Vert Cookery School’s principle tutor, Alex Connell, everything that the judges were looking for. Not only were the tastes and textures impressive, but also the “care, skill and attention to detail” Ashley put in only went to prove how exciting vegetarian meals can be and also how presentable they are, when imagination and experience come together to create such a winning dish.

For his pains, Ashley is now entitled to a cookery course at Cordon Vert to the tune of £1,500, which is taught up to the nationally recognised Professional Diploma standard. He also takes away his own set of Cordon Vert embroidered whites, the Chef of the Future 2012 title and a bottle of champagne to toast his success.

For the runners-up, Olivia West and Natasha Koncewicz, they now have the experience to go one better for the 2013 event. As Gary proved, knowledge is king and the girls now have an insight into just what it takes to win this coveted vegetarian cookery course award.

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Out with the lentils – vegetarian cookery schools go gourmet

There are some immense resources online for vegetarians, these days; hardly surprising when almost two million Brits consider themselves to be ‘strictly vegetarian‘. But the ideology behind going meat-free is so out-dated for us carnivorous dinosaurs that we really are in the dark ages when it comes to our own conception of what makes up a vegetarian diet. Personally, I blame Neil the Hippy and his constant badgering of Rik, Mike and Viv to eat lentils – I surmise that for anyone whose life has begun again, we’re in the same boat.

And that is really the crux of this week’s National Vegetarian Week – not only trying to change our appreciation of a meat-free diet but also teaching vegetarians that the carnivores are not the enemy. As such, we look today at the strides made by the myriad vegetarian enterprises, as well as those on our own cookery courses page, making a difference online today, starting with an offline event (hey-ho): VegFest running, Friday 25th-Sunday 27th May inclusive.

If you’re able to get along to Bristol this weekend, the culmination of this week’s proceedings concludes at the tenth annual VegFest in a program that not only exhibits live cookery classes and demonstrations but also has three comedians (Andrew O’Neill Friday, Sarah Pascoe Saturday and Chris Stokes on Sunday) to remind us that there is a lighter side to vegetarianism and it’s not all about hangovers from the Summer of Love and proclamations that if we don’t stop eating meat, the world will come to an end, despite what Einstein predicted that survival on Earth will be directly benefited by the evolution of vegetarianism. Another good reason to go is that it’s free to the general public, opening Friday at 2pm, then 11am on the weekend days, concluding in all cases at 11pm.

If that’s not enough for you, or you can’t get along, let’s get one thing totally clear: the vegetarian diet is no longer a bowl of lentil soup with a few herbs dashed in; it has gone Gourmet. The Cordon Vert Cookery School, for one, has taken the art of sourcing and preparing ingredients and even developing their own stock of vegetarian chefs through in-house cookery courses, to new levels. Indeed, as National Vegetarian Week builds up to its climax, they have announced the winner of their Chef of the Future award, which we’ll run through in more detail, tomorrow.

There are plenty of other fine dining experiences to be had sans la viande up and down the country, but the real jewel in the UK vegetarian crown is Edinburgh, at least according to Alex Bourke, author of such tomes as Vegetarian Scotland and other travel-related ventures for veggies.

Vegetarian dining is well catered for in the Scottish capital; it even has its own meat-free bed and breakfast, Claymore Vegetarian Guesthouse, based in the heart of the city, just a hop skip and a jump from Princes Street. You can also find up to thirteen bespoke vegetarian restaurants and cafés, all of which sit nicely in and around Edinburgh’s many historical attractions and plentiful pubs and bars (well, it is Scotland).

So join me tomorrow when we take a look at what really is en-vogue veggie as we review the three-course recipe that carried off Cordon Vert Cookery School’s Chef of the Future title and all of the trimmings and prestige that the award entitles the winning chef to.

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Countdown on for entry into this year’s Chef of the Future

The Cordon Vert cookery school enters its thirtieth year, this year, since its inception back in 1982. Promoting vegetarian meals as a staple inclusive in any main pub or restaurant menu is one of the key drivers behind their raison d’etre and, for any like-minded budding chefs, they have a whole host of vegetarian cookery courses on site to choose from.

Not only does the cookery school offer a versatile range of cookery classes, from general workshops to cookery courses for young people, but they also offer a nationally recognised diploma, which incorporates many aspects of the professional chef’s trade and is designed, in its intensity, to bring anyone needing a vegetarian cooking qualification up to speed in a very short space of time.

It is this diploma that is part of the prize on offer as part of the competition for their annual ‘Chef of the Future 2012’ competition, welcome to vegetarian and meat-cooking chefs alike, however the menu for judging will be an entirely vegetarian or vegan three-course affair, which should be able to be cooked in a live cook-off environment, to be held in Cheshire at the Vegetarian Society HQ, w/c May 8th.

The judging panel, who it will ultimately be the ones to please with the menu, have now been announced. Cordon Vert Cookery School’s Alex Connell is this year joined by three instantly recognisable names in the field of vegetarian cooking, namely Jane Hughes, The Vegetarian magazine editor, Damien Davenport, Manchester’s Bistro 1847 vegetarian eatery director and one import from ‘the outside world’, Mike Haddow, who is the group executive chef from Thwaites Inns of Character and Shire Hotels.

As an extra sign of recognition for the eventual winner of this year’s contest, Damien will run the victorious three course offering as a special at Bistro 1847, alongside his already renowned menu.

Completing the prize on offer for this year’s competition, on top of the Bistro 1847 Special and £1,500’s worth of Cordon Vert Professional Diploma Cookery Course, the winner of 2012 Chef of the Future will also take away a complete set of cooking whites, which will have specifically tailored embroidery recognising the achievement and a bottle of champers. And, of course, the prestigious title.

So if you fancy being in with a chance to hone your art of vegetarian cooking through a foundation cookery course of national recognition, which not only highlights the range of ingredients and techniques used by professional vegetarian chefs but also goes on to cover nutritional aspects, avoidance of common pitfalls, menu planning and dietary restrictions, download an application form off Cordon Vert’s website and have it back before April 2nd to be in with a chance of the diploma and a shot at the title!