Little Gems Chef Crowned Chef of the Year

in the 2018 MK Food & Leisure Awards.


Chef of the Year MKFLA

Following a very successful live cook-off, Head Chef Shane Clarke from The Swan Inn (the Little Gems Flagship) was awarded first place and the coveted title of “Chef of the Year” in the recent 2018 MK Food & Leisure Awards.

Reaching its seventh edition this year, The Milton Keynes Food Awards is an annual competition which endeavours to showcase the best local hospitality businesses in and around the Milton Keynes area.  It has several categories from those dedicated to the hardworking, experts in their field; the Chefs and Waiting staff,  to the local restaurants, pubs and leisure outfits themselves, ranging from Best Pub, Best Use of Local Produce to Best Attraction. As founder of the competition, Steven Dryden-Hall pointed out,“The Food awards actually started out their life at The Swan Inn in MK Village.”All the more reason why we were so pleased when our Head Chef signed up.

Whilst most categories in this competition are subject to a nomination process and put to a public vote,  after an initial selection process, the title of Chef of the Year category all boils down to a live cook-off, carefully overseen and adjudicated by a panel of judges formed of industry experts and local influencers. Hosted in the kitchens of The Brasserie at Milton Keynes College, this year the chefs were asked to present three courses in three hours. For starters, they were served up a mystery box of ingredients, supplied by AB fruits, from which they had to select their produce, prepare and serve up two identical dishes within an hour. For the main course, the chefs were able to plan ahead; create, practice and master a dish that best represented their style of cooking and present two identical portions within the second hour of allotted time.  And finally for dessert… the chefs were asked to serve up a roulade of choice following a sponge recipe by the acclaimed and highly talented judge and expert in the field of patisserie; Claire Clark. 

So what were the judges looking for? What was the criteria for judging? Other than delivering on flavour, time, consistency and execution, judges were looking for the chef’s ability to be able to serve up unique dishes and offer variety across their menus. They wanted the chefs to demonstrate a passion for plating, showcase their skills and knowledge of their trade. As Paul Eason, a Judge from Blanco Nino explained, “We also look at how they work. Their methodology. Their attention to detail, as well as how tidy they are at their stations. How they prioritise hygiene.”

No stranger to the culinary competition arena, having already taken the title of Chef of the Year in 2013 and twice winner of a similar category in the Northamptonshire Food Awards, prior to the ceremony Shane explained his reasons for wanting to roll up his sleeves and get involved.

Competitions like the MK Food Awards are not only a great way to pitch your skills against fellow chefs and like-minded individuals from the local area, to see how you match up, where you could improve, but to push your own boundaries and creativity away from the comfort of your own kitchen environment. It is a massive learning curve to be placed under the spotlight with a different kind of pressure.”

Founder of the competition Steven Dryden-Hall could not agree more.

This competition continues to grow year on year. It is inevitably always a close call, which gives it its great buzz. What makes this competition a little different to others, is the fact that we invite locals bloggers from the area, potential guests who could actually be the ones visiting these businesses, alongside the expert opinions of the professional chefs. Chef of the Year allows for that healthy sense of competition amongst pubs and restaurants in the area. Winning the competition is not only a massive confidence booster and accolade for the winners, but subsequently helps promote the venues themselves. Hosted at the Milton Keynes College, it is also a great way to encourage the future generation of chefs too. During the cook-offs, a culinary student works alongside the participants as their commis chef, giving them a real tangible and invaluable insight into the real nature of the industry.”

Speaking on behalf of Little Gems, Millie Ashworth, Head of Happiness & Productivity explained why we are so very keen to encourage such participation.

As part of our Little Gems family, we could not be prouder of Shane. Our company culture is one which very much encourages the nurturing of talent and the opportunity to learn. When it comes to training our brigade of chefs, not only does our Head Chef Shane Clarke work hard to equip his team with the skills required to run our busy kitchen, in terms of preparation, food hygiene & safety practices including allergen awareness that are necessary to ensure consistency at every meal time, but training courses are made accessible. Everyone is always encouraged to have their say when it comes to our new menus and the possibility to generate ideas and dishes for changing daily specials.”

Top job chef!

Take a look below for Shane’s winning dishes…