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Next stop London for Student Alex after winning Northern Ireland FutureChef final with a vegan twist

Posted By:
Henderson Foodservice Ltd.

20th Feb 2024

Northern Ireland’s latest Springboard FutureChef winner has been announced, with Alex Scates heading through to the UK-wide final with her vegan meal for two which impressed the local panel of chef judges.

Alex, who is in Year 10 at St. Columbanus’ College in Bangor, Co. Down, produced the only vegan meal in the regional final of the competition, cooking up a pistachio crusted roast celeriac, celeriac puree, sweet potato fondant, carrot, shitake, shallot, mushroom and plant trim jus for her main, finished off with a vegan chocolate tofu mousse, with nuts, dates, pear and a toasted coconut ice cream.

The judging panel was headed up by Food Development Chef, Geoff Baird from competition sponsors, Henderson Foodservice, who was joined by Gemma Austin, owner of A Peculiar Tea and MAMO; Artur Fron, head chef at 2Taps Streetfood; Ulster University’s Culinary Training Officer, Sean Owens; and Kristen Nugent – last year’s Northern Ireland winner who went on to be crowned UK FutureChef Champion in 2023.

The judges all agreed Alex had taken a huge leap of faith and brought her passion for cooking and her vegan lifestyle to the competition, sharing that vegan or vegetarian cooking does not have to be without taste or flair. She was mentored throughout the competition by Cathy Adamson, Craft Development Chef for Sodexo.

Head Judge, Geoff Baird added; “As this competition gets bigger every year, we are blown away by the level of skill, creativity and confidence the students bring to the heats and the finals. We have met some incredible up and coming chefs this year, and Alex has been the epitome of a successful winner with her creative dish that scores high on value, taste, presentation, provenance, and minimal waste.

“As one of the leading suppliers to the hospitality industry across the island of Ireland, we are hugely invested in the future of that industry, and with young people as passionate as Alex and her fellow finalists about local sourcing and sustainable cooking, we are in great hands.”

Alex was one of seven finalists, whittled down from 891 entrants through heats last year.

The finalists were Matilda Higginson from Friends School, Lisburn; Naomi Anderson from Royal School Dungannon; Angus Gregg from Dalriada College, Ballymoney; Lubo Mulkerns from St. Paul’s High School, Bessbrook; Zuzanna Urnabek from Loreto College, Coleraine; and Beth Morrow from Banbridge Academy.

FutureChef is the annual initiative from Springboard, the charity that is committed to nurturing young talent and promoting hospitality as a great place to work. It is the flagship competition of Springboard’s wider educational programme and has been supported by Henderson Foodservice for the past three years.

Caitriona Lennox, Head of Springboard in Northern Ireland added; “This has been quite a journey! We started this competition back in September 2023 with a host of talented culinary students who brought their skills to competitive heats held at local colleges.

“These young students, aged from 13-15 years old, who are our industry’s future culinary talent pipeline, displayed such creativity and composure on the day. Producing a main course and dessert for two people under time constraints of 90 mins was no easy feat, and they all did it to such a high standard. Without the support of their teachers, parents and guardians and of course their chef mentors, that wouldn’t have been possible. Engagement between education and industry really does make this work and the support students received was mind blowing.

“The support received from Henderson Foodservice throughout has been invaluable, and as our Northern Ireland headline sponsor, we would like to thank them as Springboard FutureChef wouldn’t be the same without them.”

The local chef mentors who saw the young cooks throughout their heats were Stevie Higginson from The Square Bistro, Lisburn; John Whyte from Armagh City Hotel; Dave Gilmore from the Galgorm Collection; Sinead Boyle, Culinary Arts Lecturer at Southern Regional College; Graham Henry from Royal Portrush Golf Club, Ciaran Sansome from The Burrendale Hotel, Newcastle; and of course, Cathy Adamson from Sodexo, who mentored winner Alex.

This is the 25th year of the Springboard FutureChef competition, and over the past quarter of a century, the competition has been a beacon of inspiration for young talent, fostering culinary dreams and propelling them towards successful careers in the culinary world.

Next for Northern Ireland winner Alex is the UK-wide final in London in March.