The contest matched some of the best chefs in the three regions of Wales, with the South defeating their counterparts from North and Mid Wales at the three-day annual celebration of culinary skills hosted by Coleg Llandrillo, Rhos-on-Sea.
Each team was challenged to prepare a three course meal for 75 people, using mainly Welsh, seasonal ingredients. They had the option of using either Welsh Lamb or Welsh Beef in their main course.
As an additional challenge this year, each team also had to prepare a number of cold dishes – two starters, two main dishes, two desserts and a restaurant platter for four – which counted towards the overall score. Diners over the three days also contributed to the result by giving their verdict on the dishes on a feedback form.
The South Wales team, which was awarded gold medals, featured four chefs from the Celtic Manor Resort, Newport, including executive head chef Michael Bates, who was captain. He was delighted to clinch the dragon trophy, which was last year won by Mid Wales.
“What was pleasing for me, more than anything else, was that we introduced two chefs to this competition and the team gelled amazingly well and worked in harmony,” he said.
“We approached it like a restaurant service and we all really enjoyed it, which is important. We were criticised for slow service last time but this time everything went like clockwork and all the courses were served in one hour and 20 minutes.
“This competition is a great advert for Welsh food and culinary skills and we are looking forward to travelling back to South Wales with the Battle for the Dragon trophy.”
Bates was joined by workmates Karl Jones Hughes, Simon Crockford and Ffion Lewis, Kieran Harry, head chef at Chapel 1877, Cardiff and Nicolas Collins, development chef for the Catering Academy, Cardiff.
They cooked a starter of cod cheek, brassica, potted brown shrimp wonton, sweet corn, tomato caviar and coriander foam. Main course was Welsh Lamb loin, spiced vegetable and chickpea pudding, lamb bon bon, pickled anchovy and aubergine puree, salt bake beetroot, baby carrot, wild garlic gremolata orzo, lamb jus. Dessert was Caldey island chocolate marquise, iced white chocolate and orange parfait, milk fritter infused with rhubarb and ginger liquor, salted macadamia, cookie crumble and scorched ginger meringue.
Both Mid and North Wales were awarded silver medals. Mid Wales team manager Gareth Johns, co-owner of the Wynnstay Hotel, Machynlleth, was disappointed not to retain the trophy but he said he was proud of the young chefs.
“Naturally we are disappointed that we have been knocked off the top spot, but South Wales were worthy adversaries and I hope they will look after the trophy until we reclaim it next year,” he added.
He was joined in the team by captain Neil Roberts, a former National Chef of Wales winner and co-owner of the Waggon and Horses, Newtown. The other team members were Steve Griffiths and Mike Ramsden, Cambrian Training Company, Jacob Sampson, Nags Head, Garthmyl, and Joe Barnes, Waggon and Horses.
Mid Wales served up a starter, which was their take on fish and chips, with tempura hake, celeriac chips, pea puree, bacon dust and home-made ketchup. Main course was ‘steak and ale’, comprising sirloin of aged Welsh Beef, beef marrow, parsley and skirt ‘bon-bon’, ale gravy, horseradish mash and vegetable surprise. Dessert was themed ‘back to the nursery’ and comprises elements of rhubarb, ‘custard’, ginger nuts, ice cream and prunes.
North Wales team captain David Kelman, executive head chef at Ellenborough Park Hotel, Cheltenham, congratulated South Wales. “I am really proud of my team because the chefs worked really hard and it’s a shame that we didn’t win,” he said.
His teammates were Sally Owen, a lecturer at Coleg Llandrillo, Danny Burke, owner and Arron Tye, demi chef de partie, from the Shared Olive, Hawarden, Hefin Roberts, head chef at Ye Olde Bull’s Head Inn, Beaumaris and Leigh Marshall, head chef at the Castle Hotel, Conwy.
Their menu opened with a starter of scallop and salmon terrine, quinelle of crab and new potato, butter poached prawn, shell fish sauce, crisp salmon skin and green asparagus. Main course was roast saddle of Welsh lamb wrapped in farce meat and air dried ham, slow roasted neck fillet, potato, honey glazed sweet bread, root vegetable, bulgar wheat, glazed turnips, young carrot and leek with a roast lamb jus. Dessert was dark chocolate ganache with a butternut squash, blood orange and vanilla centre iced white chocolate parfait, warm blood orange tartlet, orange sponge and coriander shoots.
The Battle for the Dragon judges were Terry Woolcock, Eric Bruce and Stuart McLeod.
Culinary Association of Wales president Colin Gray, owner of Capital Cuisine, Bedwas, praised all three teams and said it had been another close contest, presenting the judges with a difficult task.
“It was really good to see a number of chefs competing for the first time in the contest, which has got to be good for the future. The Battle for the Dragon contest was part of the trial and selection process for team members to compete with Culinary Team Wales in the Culinary Olympics in 2016. Representing your country ought to be considered the ultimate honour by every Welsh chef.”
He thanked all the sponsors, chefs, colleges and establishments who had supported the Welsh International Culinary Championships, which continued to grow with increase entries again this year.
Organised by the Culinary Association of Wales, the Battle for the Dragon contest is one of the showpiece events at the championships, the main sponsors of which are the Welsh Government and Hybu Cig Cymru/ Meat Promotion Wales.