This year marks the 10th anniversary of an inspiring food project in Hampshire that aims to nurture young culinary talent and celebrate local food. Over the past decade dozens of gifted young cooks have come forward to take part in the Create & Cook Competition, creating wonderful personal menus using locally sourced or home-grown ingredients. They have risen to the challenge of hunting out produce from their local farmers’ market, farm shop or their school garden or allotment and have cooked their seasonal dishes in front of our top chefs to become a Hampshire champion. Educating the next generation of cooks about local food, seasonality and sustainability was what the Create & Cook Competition set out to achieve and with dozens of schools taking part each year the competition has proved very popular.

“The Create & Cook Competition is unique because of its focus on local ingredients. My ambition was always to bring local food into the classroom and I am delighted many schools are now including our competition in their food technology curriculum” explains Min Raisman from fit2cook food education who organizes the Create & Cook Competition. “We’ve been thrilled to discover real culinary talent and enthusiasm amongst 12-14 yr old cooks in Hampshire over the last 10 years. They have cooked us some fantastic locally inspired dishes. My personal favourites have been crab ravioli, strawberry tart, lavender and orange bavarois and rabbit pie!”

Formally a producer on BBC Radio Four’s Food Programme and organizer of the prestigious BBC Food and Farming Awards, Min set up the Create & Cook Competition in 2009 with fellow local food champions Andy Mackenzie, Executive Chef Exclusive Chefs Academy and home economist and former Hampshire Fare director Davina Tibbetts. “If you buy local ingredients you are supporting Hampshire food producers and farmers, reducing your food miles and helping keep the money within the Hampshire economy. We need to educate young cooks about the knock-on effects of their buying decisions, they are the consumers of tomorrow.”

From the dozens of aspiring entries each year, four pairs of cooks get chosen to cook their summer menus in front of Hampshire’s top chefs at Newlyns Cookery School in Hook where one overall winner is crowned the Create & Cook Champion. Young cooks learn so much from the top chef judges who are a huge inspiration to the younger generation. Past chef judges have included James Golding from the Pig Group, Jane Devonshire Hampshire’s Masterchef winner, Steve Edwards winner of Masterchef the Professionals and Adam Fargin from the Aviator in Farnborough. They have all been keen to help encourage young talent and share their passion for using local ingredients

One of the first young cooks to win the fit2cook trophy were Jack Newbery and Keenan Pawley from Bay House School in Gosport. They cooked a delicious free- range chicken roulade with home-made pesto made from basil they grew on their school windowsill and Lyburn cheese instead of parmesan. Their dessert was a berry cheesecake using Hampshire strawberries they picked themselves and local eggs. Jack said of winning “We are so surprised and delighted to have won. I come from a family that can’t cook, my Mum is hopeless so for me this is really amazing” As a prize all finalists have had their recipes professionally style and photographed into recipe card trophies for them to keep. These are all available to see and use on the website www.createandcook.co.uk

Other Hampshire winners have been Naomi Colley and Beth Wright from John Hanson School in Andover whose pork, apple and sage burgers used Greenfield pork mince from pigs reared close to Beth’s home. Their stunning dessert was a white chocolate, raspberry and hazelnut roulade which showed off their real skill in the kitchen. Both really keen cooks Beth has big ambitions “I love baking and would love to have my own patisserie in Paris. Winning this competition has really given me confidence to pursue my dream.” Chef judge
Steve Edwards, who now has his own restaurant etch in Brighton, has been a judge for Create & Cook several times “The standard of the dishes just seems to get better and better, I am amazed what this age group can achieve- it’s inspiring to watch them cook.”

Another Hampshire school top of the culinary league table in terms of winning the Create & Cook Competition is Robert May’s School in Odiham who has produced 2 champions over the years. Chris Mclennan and Dan Moya from Robert May’s School were firm favourites with the judges in 2013. Andy Mackenzie said of their herbed Newlyns Farm rack of lamb with cherry jus “It’s not easy to cook rack of lamb really well and find a jus that really compliments the meat but this dish was spot on. These boys are really good cooks who were very calm in the kitchen under pressure. They were very impressive.” Although at the time Chris said he’d like to be a chef as food was in his family, his great grandfather was the local village baker, he has in fact gone on to Southampton University to read Aerospace Engineering! But he says of winning the Create & Cook Competition “Winning the competition with Dan gave me confidence to experiment in the kitchen and now at Uni I cook all my meals from scratch and really enjoy cooking for my friends. I hope my love of cooking with stay with me for life and the Create & Cook Competition was an important part of making food central to my life”

Having started in Hampshire, the competition has grown from strength to strength and now encompasses Sussex and the Isle of Wight and for 2018 Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire schools have been invited to take part too. The competition has had the backing of The Co-operative Group who have shared their vision for promoting local food and helping educate the young about where their food comes from. There has also been great support within Hampshire from Hampshire Farmers’ Markets, Hampshire Fare, Newlyns Cookery School, Exclusive Group and the catering colleges across the county – Highbury College, South Downs College, Eastleigh College and Basingstoke College of Technology.

As the Create & Cook Competition moves into its second decade, fit2cook food education is looking for a new partner/sponsor to help develop the competition further. “The relevance of the Competition is even greater now than when we started. With obesity figures on the rise, food technology under threat in schools and a shortage of chefs in industry, we need to be encouraging as many young people into the kitchen as possible, to cook from scratch and to care about what they eat” says organizer Min Raisman from fit2cook food education “It’s heartening to see 14 year olds cooking with real passion, we know what young cooks can achieve if they are given the opportunity.” For more information www.createandcook.co.uk

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