County’s top student chef crowned

From left, Stuart Smith of KM Charity Team, finalist Johnny Finch, winner Ben Dolby, Marc Bridgen from The Dog at Wingham, finalist Poppy White, and Gary Maryan from Southern Co-op at Young Cooks Professionals 2018.

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A trio of up-and-coming young chefs battled it out for the title of Young Cooks Professional 2018 but it was an East Kent College student who claimed victory.

Ben Dolby, from Canterbury, took the top spot with a main course of pigeon with textures of beetroot and goats’ cheese mousse. This was followed by a luxurious hot chocolate of white chocolate, pear, berries, hazelnuts, wafer, sponge, and cherry liqueur with Chantilly whipped cream.

He won a limited edition engraved silver salver, a framed champion certificate, and work experience at award-winning gastro-pub The Dog at Wingham.

Pipped to the post were runners up Poppy White, from West Kent College and Johnny Finch, from Swale College, at a hard-fought final staged at Entrées Catering College in Sittingbourne.

Poppy prepared roasted hake fillet crab bisque, potato rosti, spinach, samphire, and sea purslane followed by chocolate ganache, syrup sponge, milk sorbet, caramel and chocolate soil.

Johnny’s menu included rump of lamb brushed with mustard and coated in a lemon zest, parmesan and herb crust, served with cubed potatoes. For dessert he produced a delicate sweet pastry with hints of lemon, lime, orange, and ginger.

Young Cooks Professionals was open to catering colleges across the South East who named their top students to champion them in the kitchen.

Three finalists were invited to a live cook-off where they had two and a half hours to prepare two complementary dishes showcasing their skills and creativity.

Judging the entries were representatives from Golding Vision, Whole School Meals, Macknade Fine Foods, Three R’s Teacher Recruitment, Kent Catering Service, Southern Co-op, Chequers Kitchen Cookery School, Brakes, East Kent College, Orbit, Licensing Consultancy Services, and The Dog at Wingham.

The food was marked on techniques used, seasonality, budget, presentation, and taste – with bonus points awarded for use of local produce.

Oliver Ross, head of hospitality and catering at Entrées Catering College, said the competition was a good challenge for the students, helping them to “understand what it means to work under pressure.”

Gareth Oliver, chef lecturer at Broadstairs College, agreed the event set a “realistic environment” for students looking to pursue cooking as a career.

The students were praised by Marc Bridgen, owner of The Dog at Wingham, who presented the prizes, saying their efforts “surpassed my expectations on every level.”

Businesses interested in supporting Young Cooks Professionals in 2019 should contact Maxine Tarquini at or call 0844 264 0291.

It is the sister event to Young Cooks – the cookery contest for schools and families – which is staging its grand final at the end of the month. Find out more at

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