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Haileybury chef cooks up a storm

Talented local school chef Stephen Humphries, 21, from Queens Road, Hertford, has been named Junior Chef of the Year 2003 by Compass Group, the world’s largest foodservice organisation, after taking part in a live cook-off held at Windsor Racecourse in Berkshire.

Stephen beat 10 other promising young chefs to the title at the national competition, which showcases the best fine dining culinary skills from among Compass Group’s chefs working at nearly 9,000 foodservice contracts in the UK.

Stephen, who works as a senior chef de partie for education catering subsidiary Scolarest at Haileybury, won the coveted title after preparing four covers of a three course, fine dining meal during the two-hour live cook-off. His winning menu, which had to incorporate pasta in the starter, sea bass in the main course, and chocolate in the dessert, featured a starter of smoked chicken, ricotta cheese and mushroom ravioli with red pepper confit and basil oil, followed by roasted fillet of sea bass with broad bean tomato chowder and crispy fried clams. For dessert, Stephen cooked balsamic chocolate squares with coconut rum Californian Raisin ice cream.

The chef, who was competing in the culinary competition for the first time, has worked for Scolarest for four and a half years, but took a year out before his current post to work at the Wild Fish restaurant in Polzeath, Cornwall. Stephen, who received a glass trophy and a cheque for £500, is so pleased with his success that he now plans to become a bigger part of the competition circuit, and is currently preparing to take part at top hospitality and catering industry event Hotelympia 2004 in February.

"It was a great experience and I really enjoyed seeing what the other chefs had done with the same ingredients," says Stephen. "I was quite nervous at first, as I didn’t know what to expect, but once it started I soon settled down and just concentrated on getting the job done. I feel really encouraged by the result – it makes all the hard work worthwhile, and I will definitely be entering more competitions."

"We are really delighted with Stephen’s success – it shows just how far school catering has come since the days of soggy semolina," says Mike Bond, Scolarest managing director for independent schools. "Stephen is one of our brightest young stars and a shining example of how the creativity and flair of our school chefs is making dining in schools closer to a restaurant experience."