A talented teenager who has been baking since she was in primary school has been crowned the best young cook in the south east.
Charlotte Fife, 15, from Maidstone, defeated stiff competition to carry off the honours as overall winner of Young Cooks 2017 – previously known as Kent Cooks.
She wowed the judges with a double helping of dietary delight – Kentish pork loin with creamy mash, cabbage and cider gravy, and gypsy tart with Kentish crème fraîche and caramelised walnuts.
Hot on her heels were the primary, secondary and family category winners: Antonin Corcoran, from Petham Primary School, Morgan Kinch, from Herne Bay High School, and Boglar Bote Godri, from St Nicholas Primary Academy in New Romney.
Seventeen finalists chopped, sliced, stirred and baked their way through the Masterchef-style competition, producing dishes of their own devising for the judges.
The standard of entries was so high this year that the number of finalists was increased from the usual 13, meaning the cook-off at East Kent College in Broadstairs had to be moved into a bigger kitchen.
Announcing Charlotte as the winner, head of catering and hospitality Roger Phillips said: “For us, there was one standout dish. We knew almost straightaway. That main course and dessert was the one for which we all said unanimously: that is it, that’s absolutely spot on. Flavours, on every component, were absolutely perfect; the cooking of it was perfect.”
Charlotte, from Loose, a pupil at Invicta Girls’ Grammar School, said: “I was shocked but elated to win. Then all the emotions came flooding in and I was so happy, words couldn’t describe it.”
Entrants sent in the recipe for their best dish, along with a photograph of it, and the best ones were chosen for the final.
The youngsters had two hours to recreate their dishes – two courses for secondary school pupils and family entrants, one course for primary children – for the judges to test. They were judged on taste, presentation, creativity, nutritional value and use of local produce.
The enthusiasm and admiration of the judges was evident and Julia Hallett, CEO of Whole School Meals, said the high standard had made it “ever so difficult” to adjudicate.
Gary Storer, from housing association Orbit, said: “This is an amazingly exciting place to be. We’ve got lots of children really enjoying themselves cooking, being creative and confident – it’s amazing to see confidence at such a young age. It’s such a joy to be here.”
Leah McDonald, from Three R’s Teacher Recruitment, added: “I’m blown away by the children’s skills and what they’re creating and doing by themselves – especially in the primary category.”
The judging panel also included representatives from NFU Mutual, S.E. Medical, Golding Vision (part of Golding Homes), Benenden Hospital Trust, Best Western Abbots Barton Hotel, Chequers Kitchen Cookery School, Licensing Consultancy Services, Suzanne Howe Communications, FFK Catering, The Southern Co-operative, and Brakes.
The 2017 finalists
Family category: Boglar Bote Godri from St Nicholas Primary Academy in New Romney; Alice Holland from Harrietsham Primary School; Nicole Ellis from Loose Primary School in Maidstone; William Stansfield from Platts Heath Primary School near Maidstone; Lena Revidon from Headington Prep School in Oxfordshire.
Primary category: Antonin Corcoran from Petham Primary School, Milly Jessup from Lynsted and Norton Primary School in Sittingbourne; Kanika Dagar from Stone St Mary’s Primary School in Greenhithe; Alice Williams from Petham Primary School near Canterbury.
Secondary category: Morgan Kinch from Herne Bay High School; Charlotte Fife from Invicta Girls’ Grammar School in Maidstone; Lily Stock from Westminster Kingsway College in London; Hangchhanuma Rai from Spires Academy in Canterbury; Rose Solley from Sandwich Technology School; Patrick Baron from St John’s Catholic Comprehensive School in Gravesend; Alexandra Gilks from Maidstone Grammar School; Millie Pikem from Goodwin Academy in Deal.