JORDANSTOWN Schools pupil Joel Donnan was one of only eight budding young chefs to be selected for the all Ireland finals of this year's prestigious Rotary Club Young Chef Competition.
The brief for the competition was to plan a healthy three-course meal for two people on a budget of no more than 16.80.
Joel’s menu included a tasty low fat fish dish and both seasonal and local produce.
His starter was roasted red pepper bruschetta on a bed of rocket, and main course - herb crusted haddock with purple sprouting broccoli. This was rounded off with blood orange and kiwi fruit salad with Clandeboye Greek yoghurt and toasted almonds.
GCSE Home Economics pupil Joel travelled to Dublin on Saturday, February 27 to take part in the finals which were held in the Failte Ireland training kitchens.
Along with the other finalists who had travelled from Cork, Limerick, Down and Armagh he had to prepare his three-course meal in just two hours under the watchful eye of three judges. On hand to oversee the pupils was Irish TV chef, Matt Dowling.
Joel proved to be an unflappable cook and produced his dishes without any hiccups despite the fact that it was a large, unfamiliar catering kitchen very unlike the Home Economics room back at school in Jordanstown. Once the dishes were displayed in the dining area, the judges tasted and deliberated behind closed doors for half an hour. When the competition entrants were finally called in to hear the result, they were all presented with a complimentary ‘goody bag’. This contained a cook book, apron, chocolates, olive oil and pesto as well as other useful kitchen equipment.
The eventual winner was a pupil from Down High School; however, the judges praised all the young chefs on the very high standard of their cooking and their ability to work under pressure.
“I had to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning, which is a very early start for me. The journey to Dublin was actually a lot shorter than I thought it was going to be. And I just spent most of the time listening to music,” Joel told the Times.
“I was surprisingly calm even when I arrived at the kitchen the competition was being held in. The actual reality of the situation only really kicked in when the competition started. That’s when I began to panic but I soon relaxed and got into the flow of things. Two hours flew by and it wasn’t long before I was taking my dishes into the judging room.
“After a suspenseful wait and a short clean-up we were all asked to come into the judging room to be briefed on who the winner was.
“To be honest I’m glad it wasn’t me, I like cooking but there were people there who were really passionate about it.
“I did however, get a bagful of goodies to take home with me. So, all in all, it was a worthwhile day out, and if nothing else it helped my culinary skills and preparation for my GCSE.”
The judges also took time to speak to some of the individual pupils about their dishes which was very helpful.
Joel was told that he had some ‘raw talent’ and great ideas for flavours and was encouraged to keep cooking.
“The competition was a challenging learning experience for all the young chefs involved. The GCSE practical exam, which Joel will undertake next year, involves cooking a three course meal within a time limit so this was excellent preparation,” said Joel’s teacher, Ruth Sturgeon.
“Well done Joel, you took it all in your laid back stride, we are very proud of you.”