Hospitality student Lewis Robertson was named runner-up in the NI Regional Colleges Hospitality Student of the Year 2017 competition which was hosted by Southern Regional College. Lewis is studying level 3 professional cookery at Bangor campus, specialising in Patisserie and Confectionary.

Talented culinary students from the six regional colleges competed to be named 'Student Chef of the Year 2017' and 'Food Service Student of the Year 2017'. Their challenge was to work in a chef and food service partnership to create a three course meal, design a table setting and serve a panel of judges.   

The creativity of students was noted by judges, Noel McMeel, Executive Chef, Lough Erne Resort and Philip Waring, Development Chef for Rational. Commenting Noel McMeel said: "The standard was phenomenal this year and it is great to see such passion and knowledge being displayed by students. Competitions of this nature build confidence and are a great link between the industry and education."

Passion and creativity were also on display in the dining room as guest judges were served an aperitif on individually themed tables under the watchful eye of hotel gurus, James McGinn, from Europa Hotel and Marco Marro, from The Merchant Hotel. 

Guests marked contestants on their food, service and understanding of the menu. Competition sponsor Noel Branagh, Managing Director of Bunzl McLaughlin said: "Students demonstrated first class standards with a great sense of pride, passion and professionalism. As a company, we are committed to developing talent and I know that some of the students who served me today will be the stars of the future."

The task was to design a 3 course menu incorporating chicken as the main ingredient - this menu was then prepared and cooked for a panel of top industry judges, in a 3 hour live cook off final.

The winners were announced at an evening Gala Awards Dinner, which kicked off with a Drinks Reception supported by Dillon Bass, followed by a seven course mouth-watering menu prepared, cooked and served by Southern Regional College's Level 2, Level 3 Professional Cookery, Foundation Degree Hospitality, Level 2 IT and Adult Access students. 

Compered by James McGinn, the gala dinner was attended by representatives from the competing colleges, industry stakeholders and supporters. The event honored and rewarded the achievements of all the students with competition participants receiving a goodie bag of gifts sponsored by the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation.

As his inspiration for the menu Lewis chose to use local seasonal produce and producers. Lewis explains `To produce this menu I have taken The Hungry Gap as my theme, the period of the year between winter and spring, when fresh produce is in short supply.

"I tried to use ingredients which were seasonally grown or foraged in the North Down area, or have been preserved to extend their season. Inspired by the recent Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink, I have sought out ingredients from local artisan producers and tried to use them in a contemporary way for my dishes."

Along with Young Buck Blue cheese from Newtownards, Lewis made use of organic heritage vegetables from Helens Bay Walled Garden, and artisan charcuterie products from Ispini in Moira.

Tutor and mentor Paul Monaghan said "I am extremely proud of Lewis. He produced some excellent work both in preparing for and during the competition. He put a great deal of effort into learning and perfecting new skills, as well as using local ingredients and meeting suppliers, and has shown that events like this are a valuable learning experience and a great opportunity for students to measure themselves against their peers.

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