Interview with the Munster 2015 Apprentice Chef Winner Stephanie


How did you first get into cooking?

I learnt about cookery at home and when I started secondary school, I chose Home Economics as a subject which gave me a good grounding in basic cookery principles and nutrition. The subject helped me develop a keen Interest in food and nutrition and cookery..

What is the first dish you mastered?

 The first dish that I ever mastered would have to be bacon and cabbage. From a very young age bacon and cabbage was always our Sunday dinner. Every Sunday I would help prepare the dinner. By the age of nine I could make a wonderful, tasteful bacon and cabbage dinner.

What chefs do you admire most and why?

There are many chefs that I admire especial Darina and Rachel Allen as they live in my county. Darina and Rachel Allen cook wholesome family foods and are very conscious of sourcing ingredients locally.  They also have played an important role in promoting and supporting local Cork artisan foods. Another chef that I admire would be Mary Berry as my Home Economics teacher uses a her recipes a lot, they are basic family recipes but they work and give excellent results always.

What’s the dish you’re currently most proud of?

I would have to say my Apprentice Chef dish, pan fried sea bass with gnocchi, asparagus, shell fish bisque and crab spring rolls, because of the technically processes it demonstrates and the complex texture and flavours that are evident.

How did you first hear about the Apprentice Chef project?

At the start of the school year my teacher Ms Dunlea started talking about this wonderful cooking competition in class. She gave out application forms to be completed. My teacher then gave me the opportunity to travel to Tralee IT to experience the mentor’s demonstrations and to gain insight into what the competition involved. I was blown away by this wonderful, exciting project. I was amazed with how Chef Simon Regan and Chef Mark Doe were able to conjure up some amazing dishes using Good Mood Foods which were all locally sourced.

Favourite cooking techniques learned?

During the Apprentice Chef competition I developed my cooking skills and techniques but I also learned numerous new cooking skills and techniques.Firstly I learned how to handle fish, de bone fish and how to scale fish. Before the competition I never before worked with fish and so my ambition was to use this competition to become a fish master. I remember the first time that I handled the sea bass I left out a massive scream. Now I am a fish master,Another technique that I challenged myself with during this competition was making bisque. This was a massive challenge for me but thankfully after long practice my work paid off and it was well worth it. Making the bisque involved ensuring that the seasoning was perfect. The bisque gradually becomes saltier as the sauce reduces to the right consistency. This took time to get right. Now I am a bisque master.

Please describe the dish you cooked for the Apprentice Chef Final.

I prepared, cooked and served, pan fried sea bass, with gnocchi, asparagus, shell fish bisque and crab spring rolls. This was interesting because it demonstrates basic processes like frying fish and more complex techniques like the bisque foam.I sourced all my ingredients as local as possible. The vegetables I purchased at the English Market and farmers market. I purchased my fish from Ballycotton sea food in the English Market.My sea bass was pan fried in hot oil. The sea bass had a nice crispy skin. The sea bass also had a nice golden colour which was obtained by frying quickly in hot rapeseed oil. The interior of my sea bass was tender and flavoursome.The gnocchi had a nice golden crispy skin and the interior was nice and fluffy. There was a nice crunchy bite to my asparagus; it was “al dente”. The asparagus had a nice green colour because I boiled it in boiling water for 2 minutes only. Then I fried it in hot melted butter for 3 minutes which held the colour and gave it more flavours.My shell fish bisque had amazing flavours. It was a creamy sauce. The flavours of the prawns really came through in the sauce. Also the homemade fish stock really enhanced the flavours. My shell fish bisque had a nice orange/brown colour to it.The crab spring rolls were deep fried and this gave a golden brown colour on the outside. The flavours were mainly of crab meat, mayonnaise and spring onions which was a good combination.From the first time that I made my dish it improved greatly due to all the mentoring that I received from my mentor Mark Doe.

What’s the most surprising thing you learned about yourself throughout the project?

 I entered this competition to find out more about a career as a chef. Before this competition I couldn’t see myself working in a kitchen as a career, but this competition helped me to discover my love for cooking and hopefully one day become a Chef.

What is your ultimate ambition in the food world?

To share my love of food, especially the importance of using locally sourced fresh non processed foods. To learn more about combining different textures, flavours and colours. Also I hope to continue to develop my culinary skills within and outside school.I hope one day that I will have a career in the food industry, whether it will be a chef in a hotel, a dietitian to help comeback obesity or a food scientist. I have a dream to have a career in the food industry but I am not a 100% sure which job yet.

 Finally, what tips or advice would you give to students taking part in Apprentice Chef Project?

  1. Firstly if you intend to go far in this competition you will require a lot of spare time on your hands. I would advise you to take part in the competition if you are in transition year. I was in transition year and this competition took up a good chunk of my time. I was practicing my dish at the start of the competition once a week but as it got closer to the cook offs I was practicing three to four times a week. Your project write up will require a few hours of work every week. Taking all of this time into consideration you wouldn’t really have the time in any other year.
  2. I would recommend that you put extra effort into your project write up as a good chunk of the final marks goes for this. I put a nice few hours of work into my project write up every week and it defiantly paid off. Please don’t leave your project write up until the last minute if you want to succeed in this competition.
  3. Research recipes and find a recipe that you will find a little challenging. Chose a dish that you will be able to source your ingredients locally. Finally chose a dish that you and your family will enjoy eating because they will be easting it numerous of times.
  4. With regards to the mentoring, your mentor is there to help. You have been assigned a mentor for one reason, for them to help you. If you have any questions regarding sourcing ingredients, cooking techniques, timing, presentation or even your project write up, don’t hesitate and contact your mentor by email and they will be glad to help.  Use your mentor and you will go far in the competition because they will help you improve your dish and your project write up. They will also give you tips on what to do and what not to do. I am very thankful to my mentor, Mark Doe who replied rapidly to my numerous of queries regarding my dish and project write up and he also helped me to remain self-assured and calm in the days leading up to the cook-offs. Without my mentor this experience wouldn’t be the same.
  5. When doing your time plan allow for mistakes and don’t rush things.
  6. Finally enjoy the whole experience. Remember how many teenagers can say that they worked in a state of the art kitchen. Also how many teenagers can say that they were mentored by such amazing chefs for a number of months.
  7. Yes there is a winner at the end of the project but the most important thing is that you enjoy your experience, learn and develop your skills and knowledge of food. Even though there is an overall winner but in the eyes of the judges everyone is a winner because the standard is so high.

     Remember Fail To Prepare, Prepare To Fail