Last year’s North West Young Chef of the Year winner has been invited back with open arms to the Spanish Michelin starred restaurants he worked at as part of his “mind-blowing” prize.
Simon Salt last week returned from a two week stage in the Baserria region with the golden opportunity to return to either the award winning Martín Berasategui Restaurant or Mugaritz.
“It was absolutely mind-blowing, I just can’t put it into words,” he enthused. “The closest thing I can think of is being asked to Willy Wonka’s Factory, it was so amazing. I have been invited to go back and have applied for a scholarship to return this November for 10 months.”
The stage was the turning point of his career, according to the 24-year-old from Darwen, Lancashire, who won the once in a lifetime experience after impressing judges at the final of North West Young Chef of the Year.
Although used to long hours and pressure, he was overwhelmed by the difference between working in the UK and abroad, not mentioning five hour siestas at his hotel in San Sebastian.
“They have such a different way of cooking over there; they work hard but it feels more relaxed,” he said. “There is also lot more passion than in the UK and a respect that’s inspiring. For instance, Martín had a few local, ingredient suppliers, some who produce special herbs for him, over for a three course lunch, making them feel right at home. It’s more of a community.”
“I met Martín on my first day, which was a bit daunting, but he was so welcoming and courteous, despite speaking no English and communicating through a translator. He is clearly keen to transmit his knowledge to new generations.
“I also found out there were 58 other members of staff, of which only six were paid! The rest were young chefs from across the world, particularly South America, all there for the sheer experience. Mugaritz was just as wonderful and owner Andoni Aduriz just as welcoming.”
As five finalists from Cumbria, Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Merseyside prepare for their own showdown at Manchester College on June 2nd, Simon – who won Lancashire Young Chef 2007 and is a Gordon Ramsay Scholar finalist - urged them to get behind the challenge. “I say give it your all as you won’t believe the experience you’ll have if you win,” he said.
“While I was given small jobs to do out in Spain, this was privilege in itself as each restaurant was such an organised, tight knit operation. I would help with the fish order in the morning, 60 live and kicking lobsters fresh every day, and in the kitchen wherever possible. Definitely the best point of my career so far and one which has changed my whole perspective on life.”
North West Young Chef of the Year 2009 is this year led by British Masterchef and highly-respected member of the Craft Guild of Chefs Brian Mellor.
To make the final, the talented quintet of 18-25 year old finalists were challenged to cook up a winning three course meal for two using local North West produce costing up to £25.
They will now have to use their passion, flair and knowledge of regional produce to create a new set of winning dishes for the ultimate heat, where they will face a scrupulous judging panel made up of masters of the trade, regional producers and food writers.
These include Brian Mellor (Chef ‘n’ Farmer, Wirral), John Benson-Smith (my-hospitality.com), Steven Doherty (chairman Ramsay Scholarship) and Nigel Crane (chef and managing director of sponsor, Essential Cuisine, based in Cheshire).
Whoever wins North West Young Chef, due to be revealed at a post cook-off awards ceremony at Manchester’s Malmaison, will receive a week long bursary in a top European restaurant. He will also win a weekend for two at a luxury hotel and set of Global chefs’ knives.
In keeping with the nature of the competition, this year’s stage abroad will be funded by ‘Home Grown – Food Champions from England’s Northwest’, a 400-page book by regional producers and suppliers. Each finalist will receive a copy of the book as well as a stage in the North West.