There are lots of things inextricably linked with Saint Valentine. Hearts and flowers, love and romance, cupid and arrows... we get the picture. Generally the thought of food will be on the minds of some who plan to take over the kitchen to test that old saying about the best way to a man’s heart which I’m sure also works for women.
That’s how it’s shaping up in my house – even on the 23rd year of marriage, there’s still room for a romantic meal for two. Or at least, as romantic as it gets with two teenagers likely to be passing through the house at intervals during the evening – with or without girlfriends in tow and with little or no concern for their mum and dad’s efforts at making time for each other with a special ‘date night’.
In fact, I can picture the incredulous look on their faces, with eyes rolling, which will convey the sentiment “At your age?”
In a weird sort of role reversal, my reply will be something like “Chill out guys – dad and I are planning what to do in our gap year.” That should be enough to stun them into silence.
But, what to cook? I’ve been picking up tips from some of the 15 chefs who gathered on Tuesday at the impressive state of the art kitchens of Belfast Met’s Titanic Quarter campus to compete in this year’s Knorr Young Chef of the Year competition.
It’s the first time it’s been held in Northern Ireland and to the catering industry, it’s a big deal.
Colleges all over Ireland can enter just one student to represent them with just two hours to impress the judges through their creativity and talent in cooking up two courses – a vegetarian starter and an Irish beef based main course, all mindful of food waste, sustainability and new allergy legislation.
The top prize went to student chef Jill Holmes from Limerick, but Northern Ireland colleges held their own with Grainne Kerr from North West Regional College and Sam McKnight from SERC’s Bangor campus among the top three.
Our man at the Met was Patryk Sojka who came away with the prestigious Hygiene Award to add to his already impressive reputation. Patryk is a studying for a Level 3 NVQ in Professional Cookery and last year was awarded two bursaries, the Belfast Met Student Chef of the Year Award
and the Tesco Home Grown Talent Award which got him work experience in the kitchens of the hospitality industry’s most notable chefs, Gordon Ramsey and Tom Kerridge.
Add this to the honour of head chef at La Parade Des Chefs hospitality show, and this guy is also one to watch out for in future in the top eateries of the world.
In his menu, which reads like a love letter to food, he used locally sourced and sustainable ingredients and less fashionable cuts of meat, keeping in mind the brief of waste management. To start with, ‘a Tasting of Winter Vegetables’ made up of treacle baked heritage carrots, smoked beetroot, buttermilk crisp flaxseed.
For the main course, braised beef cheek and rump, winter greens, parsley root, fondant potato and a beef reduction, all of which he called ‘Hannon’s Beef Cheek to Cheek’.
Cheek to cheek? Now doesn’t that sound like the perfect meal for Valentine’s Day? I wonder if Patryk’s free tomorrow night for a couple of hours to rustle up something...?