Years of hard work have paid off for a talented chef from the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport who is the new National Chef of Wales after competing in the Welsh International Culinary Championships organised by the Culinary Association of Wales.
Simon Crockford, whose family home is in Tenby, cooked his way to the coveted title after a closely contested final on the last day of the Welsh International Culinary Championships (WICC) held at Coleg Llandrillo and organised by the Culinary Association of Wales, Rhos on Sea yesterday (Thursday).
Crockford, a member of the Culinary Team Wales, held off a strong challenge from five rival chefs, including Welsh teammate Jason Hughes, to collected the trophy.
In addition to title, he secured an all expenses paid, one week culinary trip to the Netherlands courtesy of Koppertcress, which includes an ‘inspirational day’ with a cress coach and visits to top restaurants, a set of knives courtesy of Dick Knives, £250 worth of products from Churchill China and Gourmet Classic shopping vouchers.
He will also represent Wales in the UK National Chef of the Year contest and the World Chefs’ Global Chef European semi-final in October.
His winning menu opened with scorched mackerel and cured Swansea Bay sauce, rice, pickled beetroot, apple, salted cucumber, horseradish salad cream and sea herbs. Main course was Pembrokeshire free range chicken, sage, onion spelt, red cabbage puree, mushroom espuma, Halen Mon salted herb faggot, charred sweetcorn and chicken jus.
Dessert was Carmarthenshire Nomnom chocolate mousse, peanut butter, shortbread caramel ganache, banana parfait and chocolate soil.
“The final was a lot tougher than what I thought it would be,” said Crockford. “I work in probably the biggest resort in Europe, but that was the hardest three hours I have ever done and I honestly didn’t think I would be holding the trophy.
“I have been competing with the Culinary Team Wales for four years, have won the Battle of the Dragon and been to two Culinary Olympics, but I still have a hunger to win and this award is unbelievable. It’s a reward for a lot of hard work.”
Thomas Westerland from Cardiff, a sous chef at Lucknam Park Hotel and Spa, near Bath, was runner-up for the second year running with a silver medal. The other finalists were Hughes from Carreg Bran, Llanfair PG, Matthew Smith, of Mirrens Restaurant, Newtown and Star chef consultants and Matthew Ramsdale from The Chester Grosvenor, who all won bronze medals and Anthony Bush from Heronston Hotel, Bridgend, who received a merit.
The judges were Dragan Unic, World Chefs’ continental director for Northern Europe, Colin Gray, Stuart McLeod and Alan Shipman.
The WICC are organised by the CAW and main sponsor is Food and Drink Wales, the Welsh Assembly Government’s department representing the food and drink industry. Other sponsors of the WICC include Meat Promotion Wales/Hybu Cig Cymru, Castell Howell, Harlech Foods, Nuttals, Churchill, MCS Tech, Rollergrill, Koppertcress and Dick Knives.
Westerland cooked a starter of roast Cardigan Bay scallops, shallot, Orchard Gold, pickled onions and crispy bacon. Main course was roast loin of Brecon venison, butternut squash, pithivier, savoy cabbage and Black Mountain sauce. Dessert was Blackberry and Bramley apple mousse, vanilla churros and tarragon jelly.
Hughes’s starter was Menai lobster ravioli, café de Paris, laverbread fritters, and wood sorrel. Main course was potato and herb crusted Llyn hogget, sweetbread croquette, aubergine, burnt carrot and anchovy dressing. Dessert was pistachio soufflé and smoked salted chocolate sorbet.
Smith cooked a starter of Dyfi gin cured salmon, textures of cucumber, wasabi emulsion, black olive and wasabu tuile, beer vinegar fluid gel, red amaranth and fennel top. Main course was 58 degrees duck breast, confit duck arancini, salt-baked beetroot, smoked pomme duchess, squash puree, spinach fricassee, honey and thyme baby carrots, red wine and blackberry just.
Dessert was set blood orange and passion fruit curd, vanilla Italian meringue, pistachio shortbread crumbs, baked rhubarb, blood orange gel, chocolate ring and curd ice cream.
Ramsdale served up a starter of Welsh crab and cucumber cannelloni, watermelon, cucumber, watercress gazpacho and rapeseed oil. Main course was roasted fat on Welsh Lamb, smoked celeriac, caramelised cauliflower, Jerusalem artichoke courgette, crispy Jerusalem skin and pickled nasturtiums. Dessert: Damson cake, ricotta doughnut, white chocolate, damson and juniper sorbet
Bush served up starter of seared scallops with pickled cauliflower and curry oil followed by main course rack of wild boar, braised cabbage and salted new potatoes. Dessert was Merlin white chocolate mousse.