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.