RAF Culinary Competition

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Service catering personnel from RAF Marham recently took part in the RAF Culinary Competition, which was held at the Catering Training Sqn (RAF), Worthy Down. This annual competition is held to select the RAF Culinary Team that competes in the Combined Service Culinary Competition (CSCC), which is held at Shrivenham during September 2013. The CSCC is a prestigious event, which attracts Michelin starred chefs to judge competitors to exacting standards.

RAF Marham’s Catering Flight has enjoyed great success at both competitions in the past and the hunger and interest to compete this year was as high as ever. Unfortunately, as the dates clashed with the Annual Formal Reception in the Officers Mess, a slightly smaller team than normal, consisting of eight personnel was selected. The team of seven highly skilled chefs and a caterer was expertly led and mentored by Sgt Jason Woollett and consisted of Cpl Andy Hanson and SAC’s Dan Scott, Liam Grime, Dan Cook, Paul Kelly, Chris Woodcock, Louise Lyon and Mike Salmon.

Two weeks prior to the competition, the competitors worked relentlessly to practice and refine their trade skills, mostly in their own time. Dishes and Silver Service skills were practised, critiqued and refined during the 3 run through each individual/team is allowed. This was turbulent time as the competitors trade skills, time management and confidence suffered a rollercoaster ride, which I have to say is perfectly normal.

On arrival at Worthy Down, competitors, under the ever watchful eye of Sgt Woollett, unpacked the vehicles of equipment and ingredients in readiness for the two days of exceptionally competitive cooking and serving. Equipment was checked and re-checked prior to departing RAF Marham and prior to each event to ensure it had not been ‘mislaid’, by other teams!

First to brave the judges was SAC Dan Scott, a novice who was relatively new to competition cooking; however, his skills would soon prove otherwise. Dan won a Silver Medal ‘Best in Class’ in the Junior Fish category, producing a Sole Bonne Femme; delicately poached Sole Fillets served with a fish veloute, enhanced with lemon juice, white wine and slices of mushroom. This was a brilliant achievement and set the stall for others to follow.

The Cook and Serve category was next. Cpl Andy Hanson and SAC Liam Grime prepared a three course meal consisting of a Sea Bass starter, a Wood Pigeon main course, and a Dark Chocolate Mousse. The meal was served by SAC Louise Lyon to two guests, one of which included the drafter from Manning (good to keep him happy!) As the Caterer she had to inform the guests of the complex menu, Silver Serve each dish and put the finishing touches to the dessert by flambéing cherries. Timing was critical throughout and their excellent teamwork was rewarded with a Bronze Medal; narrowly missing out on a Silver Medal by two points.

Newly promoted SAC Paul Kelly competed in the Open Lamb category. Paul had competed previously in junior categories; however, this time he opted to challenge himself further by competing at a higher and more competitive level. Paul produced a seared Canon of Lamb, served with a Rich Red Wine Jus, Fondant Potato, Carrot Puree and Braised Red Cabbage. Although he earned a respectable Certificate of Merit for his dish, the experience gained was of great benefit and will undoubtedly prepare him for future competitions.

SAC Chris Woodcock was next in the Open Game category, where he cooked Pan Fried Grouse, accompanied with a Grouse Bon Bon, Celeriac Puree, Wild Mushrooms, Baby Kale and a Poached Saffron Potato served with a Rich Grouse Jus. Chris was the back bone of the team throughout and could always be seen assisting his fellow competitors. Considering his lack of sleep, he performed very well and achieved a very credible Bronze Medal.

Next to perform was SAC Dan Cook. Dan competed in the Hot Dessert category, possessing the nerve and strength of character to produce an Apple Soufflé accompanied with a Calvados Crème Anglaise. A soufflé in an incredibly difficult dish to perfect using equipment you are familiar with; however, he was now working in an unfamiliar environment. Despite his sterling efforts, the harsh judging resulted in a Certificate of Merit, missing out on a Bronze Medal by two points.

Our penultimate competitor was SAC Mike Salmon in the Junior Chef category. Mike, the Catering Flight’s answer to Lewis Hamilton, both inside and outside of the kitchen, produced a Main Course and a Dessert. His Main Course consisted of Tournedos of Beef, garnished with tomatoes, mushrooms, Parmentier Potatoes, Lamb’s Lettuce and served with a Chasseur Sauce. His Dessert Course, which was built around the textures of pineapple, consisted of a Pineapple Sponge, Coconut Sorbet, Coconut Crumb, Pineapple, Kiwi and Chilli Compote, Pineapple Crisp and served with a Vanilla Anglaise. The judges were very impressed with his organisation, trade skills and overall menu, awarding him a Silver Medal.

Last, but by no means least was SAC Grime in the Senior Chef category. Liam, a current member of the RAF Buffet Team and Combined Service Culinary Arts Team, has been heavily involved in the planning and mentoring of all competitors in the run up to the competition. Liam had not planned to enter this category; however, Sgt Jason Woollett had other ideas. With only 12 hours notice, Liam ‘volunteered’ to enter what is arguably the most prestigious and competitive category of the competition. Liam did not disappoint. He received his box of unknown ingredients, compiled a three course menu, which entailed a butter pan fried crab for starter and for the main pan seared breast of wood pigeon accompanied with wilted spinach, fondant potato, and a game jus, and for dessert a dark chocolate mousse, vanilla soil, cherry compote, finished with a vanilla ice cream. Liam had to produced these beautiful dishes within 2½ hours without the aid of a recipe book. Under unbelievable pressure his performance was truly remarkable. He achieved a Gold Medal, Best in Class!!!

Without a doubt, Sgt Woollett and his team performed exceptionally, doing both themselves and the Station proud. The judges’ constructive feedback will undoubtedly provide a solid platform for those selected to represent the RAF at the CSCC later this year. Roll on September!

Written By: SAC Louise Lyon