The winners of the prestigious South West Chef of the Year have been announced at a gala awards dinner in Exeter Golf and Country Club on 22nd October 2019. Congratulations to Edward Marsh of the Manor House Hotel in Castle Combe on his success as overall winner and to all other finalists and winners in every category.

Robert Welch Designs has proudly supported the event over the years which is run by eminent Michelin starred chef, Michael Caines MBE. The event, now in it’s 16th year alumni include Tim Kendall, Head Chef, The Idle Rocks, St Mawes and Elly Wentworth, Head Chef, The Angel, Dartmouth – both of whom returned to cook the gala dinner.

Elly’s starter of grilled Stone Bass had a citrus vinaigrette, squid ink mussel and fennel, while Tim’s main course was smoked West Country beef fillet, celeriac, mushroom teriyaki and broccoli. Michael Nizzero, Executive Chef at The Bath Priory prepared a dessert of chestnut Mont-blanc, pear, Somerset Perry and cream cheese. Michael and Elly were also competition judges.

The finals of the professional and student/apprentice chef categories were held earlier that same day at Exeter College and the Home Cook and Junior Chef finals took place on 5th October at Ashburton Cookery School.

We caught up with each of the category winners after the event and asked them about their experiences in the competition.

Firstly, South West Junior Chef of the Year, Munopa Nhete of Queen’s College, Taunton:

“I learnt the importance of planning in advance and balancing my activities each day as well as coming up with last minute alternatives if things did not go as planned. As it was still term-time I had to attend classes, co-curricular activities, out of school activities as well as practice cooking at The Castle Hotel after school, as well as weekends. Change in any one activity would have a ripple effect on all other activities so I had to find ways of managing everything.

“To anyone else wishing to enter the competition, [I would say] hard work and dedication has no short cuts, you have to put in the hours and believe in yourself and it will pay off. It is an experience that any passionate cook should not pass up!

“My friends: Edie, Polly, Sarah, Louis and Will were always supportive especially as the finals drew near. My mum and little brother’s support was unmatched, from picking me up at school, waiting and going back home to looking for ingredients and having fish most days so I could perfect my dish. My teacher, Mrs Mackey offered all the advice and help she could. Above all my mentor Liam Finnegan at Castle Hotel and all the kitchen staff made me feel like I was a professional chef in waiting.”

Finals were held in each of the six counties of the South West during July and the winners in each county met at the final. Each benefitted from mentoring from one of our county judges in preparation for the final. Competitors were asked to prepare a main course dish for our judges which they they worked on with their mentors to adapt and enhance for the South West final

Munopa’s dish: Sea Bass, roasted fennel, prawn tortellini, white wine sauce and a herb oil

South West Home Cook of the Year: Marie-Joelle West of Exeter

Finalists in this class were asked to prepare a main course and a dessert using a choice of two protein ingredients and a range of dessert ingredients:

Chicken OR Sea Bream
Autumn fruits and berries

“I learnt to design two dishes that could be prepared from scratch in two hours and that highlighted autumnal ingredients from Devon whilst at the same showcasing my skills and personality. When practising the dishes in the run-up to the final, I perfected my recipes in order to make my dishes as delicious as possible and learnt to work extremely efficient under the time pressure. If I had another chance, I would try and improve the presentation of my dishes.”

Future entrants should “Think carefully about the recipes when submitting your dishes, so that you can execute and present them well in the allocated time. Showcase your skills and passion whilst remaining true to yourself. Perhaps also showcase some ingredients from your local area that you particularly like. If you get through to the final, try to eliminate any unknowns by taking your own equipment and visiting the site beforehand.

“Finally, don’t be shy to contact previous winners and ask them about their experience. They are more than happy to share tips!

“My family (husband and son) as well as friends tasted my dishes several times and provided critical and much appreciated feedback which helped me to improve the taste of my dishes. My husband also brainstormed recipes with me when I first decided to enter the competition. Finally, he looked after our 2-year old son during the final and the award ceremony (whilst following the results of the competition on twitter and getting almost as excited as me!).

“The knives came as such a huge surprise and I absolutely love them! For the past decade, I always wished to own proper Chef’s knives such as the Robert Welch knives but never quite got round to afford them. Not only will I use them on a daily basis in my home kitchen, they will also always remind me of the wonderful time that I had during the competition.”

Marie-Joelle’s Menu

Main: Pan fried fillet of Sea Bream, potatosotto, salsa verde, buttered shellfish

Dessert: Caramelised apple shortcake with ginger cream and hazelnut praline

South West Student/Apprentice Chef of the Year: Rosie Nevill, Exeter College

The compulsory protein ingredients provided for our Student/Apprentice Chef finalists were:

  • Pheasant
  • Pollack
  • Mussels

“The competition taught me all sorts of things; from dish development, to personal discipline & time management. It highlighted to me how important being able to adapt and overcome setbacks is when in a high pressure situation. It also gave me the opportunity to meet and connect with some incredibly talented chefs, who are eager to pass on their knowledge to the next generation.

“Advice I would give to anyone thinking about entering the competition is to go for it. You have nothing to lose but an awful lot to learn. With hard work and preparation there’s no telling what you’re capable of achieving - and even if you don’t win, the experience you will gain as a result will be priceless.

“I didn’t have much support in the way of a mentor/chef as I don’t currently have a place of work, which often left me without a second opinion on my dishes. What I did have was college, who were very generous letting me use the kitchens and ingredients. As well as this, my family & friends all gave me a lot of moral support along the way.

“ I already had a collection of 3 Robert Welch knives which I love and swear by. So I was over the moon to have been given another 3. For me they are perfectly sized and weighted & so satisfyingly sharp.

“Thank you very much for the knives, I will cherish them for years to come, Rosie.”

Rosie’s Menu

Starter: Pollack, Chorizo, fennel

Main: Pheasant, mushroom, tarragon

South West Young Professional Chef of the Year Jamaar Semper-House, Chef de Partie, Lucknam Park, Bath

The compulsory protein ingredients provided for our Young Professional finalists were:

  • Partridge
  • Dover Sole
  • Mussels

“Taking part in the competition, I've learned to develop dishes and prep different meats that I wouldn't usually get the opportunity to do at work. Don’t think I would have had the drive to do competition's if it wasn't for Chef and the team around me it's great to learn from Chef [Hywel Jones] and glad that he pushes me in the right direction.

“The support from work was incredible I worked a lot with my Executive chef Hywel Jones on some ideas and he helped me tweak my dishes and really improve them and help me work on the meat prep elements and the fish prep.

“Thanks [to Robert Welch] once more for the prizes. Very happy with them. They’re fantastic. The quality is amazing on the knives they’re super sharp and easy to handle. I’ve found that they have kept the edge on the knife which I find a problem a lot with other knives.”

To anyone else thinking of entering “I would say to just go for it - the competition is an incredible experience for any chefs to take part in. It opens so many opportunities for you and cooking for a calibre of judges so high and respected in the Southwest is incredible.”

Jamaar’s Menu

Starter: Partridge, mushroom purée, artichoke crisps

Main: Sole, mussel velouté, braised fennel, sea vegetables, sole mousse ravioli

Dessert: Dark chocolate cremeaux, pear, milk sorbet, ginger cake and chocolate tuile

South West Professional Chef of the Year, and South West Chef of the Year 2019 (Overall)

Edward Marsh, Sous Chef, The Manor House Hotel, Castle Combe

The compulsory protein ingredients provided for our Professional finalists were:

  • Rabbit
  • Red Mullet
  • Squid

Edward’s Menu

Starter: Pan roasted Red Mullet, confit fennel, pickled romanesco and shellfish foam

Main: Stuffed saddle of rabbit, celeriac, cavolo nero, wild mushrooms, rabbit boulangère and jus

Dessert: Liquid chocolate tart, roast pear and milk sorbet

“I learnt a lot from this competition, especially in the finals. It taught me to think on my toes, adapt faster and become more fluid with my cooking style when working with mystery baskets because it’s not in your control and you have to rise to what situation and ingredients are presented to you.

“I would advise them [other chefs considering entering] and take the plunge and enter! There is nothing to lose doing this competition and so much to gain. If you don’t get the result you want from it, it’s not a problem, learn, grow, develop and come back again stronger next year; the whole process is making you a better chef.

“For this competition I received a lot of support from my partner, helping me with all my practices and organising travel and logistics on the day so I could solely concentrate on the cooking and not have to worry about anything else. It was a great help and integral with helping me place where I did.

“The new knives are fantastic, having been sponsored by Robert Welch in the national English culinary team I know how comfortable they are to use and sleek in their design, so you know you look and feel good using them. A great product all round.”