A Haverhill ‘dinner lady’ has received a highly commended prize in the East of England LACA School Chef of the Year 2017 competition.
Clare Powell, a chef of 20 years, who has worked in Samuel Ward Academy’s school kitchen for just over a year, had to cook her chosen dishes against the clock under the scrutiny of a panel of judges in the regional finals last Wednesday (November 30).
She had 90 minutes to prepare four portions of both a main course and a dessert, suitable for serving to 11 year old school children, and received a ‘highly commended main course award’.
For her main dish she prepared a spicy Moroccan chicken stew served with tangy vegetable cous cous, yoghurt flatbread and pickled salad, something the pupils at Samuel Ward unwittingly helped her choose.
She also made a mango fool dessert with cardamom biscuit.
“I’m incredibly proud,” said Mrs Powell. “It’s the first competition I’ve ever entered and I can honestly say it was absolutely terrifying. You can build it up in your head and have an expectation of what it will be like but this was like MasterChef.
“There were four judges and it was very intense so I’m proud I got it done in time and it all went OK.
“It was genuinely awe-inspiring and I’m really proud I got as far as I did.”
A spokeswoman for the competition said Mrs Powell’s award was not automatic and was given entirely at the discretion of the judging panel because they considered her dish to be ‘of a very high professional standard and expertly executed’.
Mrs Powell, a Vertas catering chef, said they had introduced a lot of new things at Samuel Ward in the last year, including a pop up shop in the canteen to try and expand the children’s knowledge of food from around the world and to get them more interested in food.
The mother-of-two, who fed her award-winning dish to pupils on ‘Moroccan day’, said of all their food themes that was a particularly popular day, making her Moroccan chicken dish an easy pick for the competition.
“I’m proud of the food we do here,” she said. “I’m a proper chef and the women who work here, they’re a great team and work hard to give the children tasty, nutritious, fresh food that appeals to them.”
The school’s youngsters have also tasted her competition dessert but Mrs Powell said she presented it in cocktail glasses rather than plastic pots for the judges.