A young chef from Crickhowell has cooked her way to the prestigious Junior Chef of Wales title after a closely contested final at the Welsh International Culinary Championships (WICC) yesterday (Thursday).
Stephanie Belcher, a 21-year-old chef de partie from Coast Restaurant, Saundersfoot, edged out four other chefs to take the coveted trophy after less than two weeks to prepare for the final.
She had been due to compete in a team of two at the Global Pastry Chef Challenge North Europe heat in Italy this week before a late withdrawal of Wales’ entry. She then had to switch her focus to the Junior Chef of Wales final.
She and the other finalists were given three hours to cook a three-course dinner for four people, using their own creative menu and mostly Welsh ingredients.
Stephanie’s commis chef in the final was Junior Culinary Team Wales teammate Jay Rees, a degree student at Grŵp Llandrillo Menai. Jay won the award for best commis in both the National and Junior Chef of Wales competitions.
She cooked a menu comprising a starter of scallop, watercress and shrimp with a selection of foraged Welsh sea herbs. Main course was Welsh Beef, celeriac, cavalo nero and local vegetables from Saundersfoot. Dessert was pear caraibe, Valhrona chocolate, almond financier, lapsang souchong espuma, pickled pear and raspberry.
She now qualifies for the semi-finals of the Young National Chef of the Year contest, organised by the Craft Guild of Chefs and will receive support from the Junior Culinary Team Wales, of which she is a member, a set of engraved knives from Friedr Dick and products worth £100 from Churchill.
Organised by the Culinary Association of Wales (CAW) at Grŵp Llandrillo Menai in Rhos-on-Sea, the WICC’s main sponsor is Food and Drink Wales, the Welsh Government’s department representing the food and drink industry.
Other sponsors include Castell Howell, Churchill, Major International, Riso Gallo, Dick Knives, MCS Tech Products, Hybu Cig Cymru/ Meat Promotion Wales, Cambrian Training Company and Grŵp Llandrillo Menai.
“I am so proud to win the competition here in Wales,” she said. “I have the privilege of representing my country and this is another step up. Hopefully, there will be more to come in the future.”
She admitted that she wasn’t expecting to win, having had a few problems with the new equipment she brought with her to the final. “It could have gone better but that’s competitions,” she added. “I am very critical of my own performance.
“It was a very difficult competition against four other great young chefs. The talent in the kitchen was incredible. I owe a lot to my commis Jay who stepped up at the last moment and to my mum and dad whose support has been amazing.”
Runner up was 16-year-old Abigail Williams, a student at Coleg y Cymoedd’s Nantgarw Campus and Oliver Herrington, demi chef de partie at Celtic Manor Resort, Newport and Katie Duffy, second chef at Llanelly House, Llanelli, were joint third.
The other finalist, Falon Bailie, junior sous chef at Foyles of Glasbury, won the award for best dish in the final with his starter of Welsh hand dived scallops, cauliflower, pea, black pudding, pancetta, hazelnut and apple.
Colin Gray, chairman of the judges, praised Stephanie’s “well executed dishes” and commitment to the competition, having only 12 days to compose a menu and work on her dishes.
He praised all the chefs for having the courage to enter and reserved special praised for Abigail. “She competed today at the age of 16 and I am staggered by the fact that this young lady has been cooking for just three or four months,” he added. “She is definitely one to watch for the future.”
“We also had a couple of new finalists, including 16-year-old Abigail Williams, which is brilliant to see. Abigail is a junior champion in the making,” he said.
The winners were announced at an awards dinner held at The Imperial Hotel, Llandudno last night.