Who will net UK Young Seafood Chef contest title?

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 7 Jun 2018

WE’RE just days away from Grimsby’s hosting of the UK Young Seafood Chef of the Year 2018, as the long-running competition closes in on a quarter of a century of inspiring cooking students to focus on fish. 

David Laister had his appetite whet as he spoke to regional heat judge Ben Bartlett. From banana skins to planking, seafood’s variety in cooking method, as much as species, will be celebrated in Grimsby with chefs of the future. 

Held now since 1996, and backed by the biggest in the business, our very own Young’s Seafood, the UK Young Seafood Chef of the Year 2018 contest has become an important annual fixture in the industry diary. 

Judging the regional heats has been Ben Bartlett, travelling nearly 500 miles to assess the young talent, whittling down the entrants to the nine competitors participating in the final on June 15.

Read more: UK Young Seafood Chef of the Year

A familiar face from television appearances on This Morning, Ready Steady Cook and Daybreak TV, he is president of the British BBQ Association having been the first winner of Britain’s Best BBQ’er competition.

He said: “It is really important to bring the next generation through. 

“We have just had the last regional heat in Norwich, it was really good, with seven teams from seven colleges, and every piece of fish was beautifully cooked, making it very difficult for judging. 

“We were all very impressed, and over all heats we’ve had chefs as young as 16, which is incredible.

“It is a really great opportunity for young chefs of the future to show us their talent and get some structured feedback from all us chefs.”

Contest judge Ben Bartlett

Ben has his own food and drink company that advises pubs, restaurants and hotels on al fresco dining and regularly gives talks and demonstrations all over the country, when he’s not judging this or the National Fish and Chip Awards. 

“I champion fish on a barbecue, because you can cook it so many different ways,” he enthused. “You can grill it, wrap it in vine leaves or foil, you can cook it on wooden trays, we call it planking, you can add another flavour, there are so many ways of cooking it. 

“We saw some teams cook with banana skins, and cooking with smoked fish. You can incorporate so many elements to make great food. The students were really showing innovation.”

Read more: Eat more seafood to help net a healthy diet says top chef Ben Bartlett

A member of the International Hospitality Association and a fellow of the British Institute of Innkeepers, Master Chefs of Great Britain, Master Craftsman of the Craft Guild of Chefs and Food Champion in the Courvoisier The Future 500, he recognises a struggle with seafood at home that makes it such an attractive choice when eating out. 

“There is a fear of fish but there are a number of tools we can use. Cook books, websites – Seafish has a great database with step-by-step videos so you can see exactly how to cook a fish.

“We tend to stick to a lot of whitefish but we have got over 350 different species of fish caught around our waters we could eat – a different fish for every day of the year.”

Barbecued Mackerel with Garlic and Watercress Butter

And for those resolute in their attitude, he thinks those grafting in Grimsby do a fine job so consumers don’t have to.

“They are the largest of all the companies, producing prepared and manufactured fish dishes, making it easy for everyone to eat really good sustainable fish with some great flavours.”

So what is his favourite? “I love mackerel, that has got to be my favourite. I do a lot of fish festivals (Dorset, Conwy and Pembrokeshire shine on the CV) and they are great because whatever is caught on the boat is put in front of you, and sometimes it may be a more exotic fish, but mackerel is definitely my favourite, grilled with sea salt and lemon, it is beautiful.”

Read more: More fishies on dishies is good for you and Grimsby

He will now make way for the senior judging team, and says they have a tough task ahead of them at the Nuns Corner campus. 

“This is one of the strongest years in the competition I have seen. They will cook a starter, intermediate and a main course, and I would expect a lot of innovation and skill to create a really nice dish.”  We have given them all feedback on how they can improve, but for me it is always the fish, that is the key element, so if you are lucky to get a whole fish, don’t just serve on small fillet, serve as much as the whole fish as possible.”

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