Chef and Le Cordon Bleu link in quest to find talent.
TOP chef Kenny Atkinson teamed up with Le Cordon Bleu to play host to the semi-final stage of its gold-standard Scholarship Award.
For once the focus wasn't on the award-winner's own food but on seven rival cooks battling it out in interviews and sensory tests at his restaurant The House of Tides on Newcastle quayside.
The award seeks out the next new culinary talent from across the UK with semi-finals held outside of London for the first time.
And Newcastle proved as good a choice as anywhere for rising stars to showcase their passion for cooking.
Newcastle-born Atkinson, whose Michelin star-winning reputation has made House of Tides a draw foodies since opening its doors in January last year, joined Le Cordon Bleu interview panel for the north round which saw applicants travel up from areas such as Manchester, Yorkshire and Norwich on Wednesday.
Run by Le Cordon Bleu London, the Scholarship Award means a prize worth more than PS35,000 for the winner who has a life-changing opportunity to study in its flagship culinary institute in London.
Its academic director Loic Malfait and Le Cordon Bleu's culinary arts director Alan Swinson were looking for passion from Wednesday's candidates. Among them was Pairo Nowroozi, 29, from Manchester who said an opportunity to study at the London institute would provide the skills to work anywhere.
The chef, who has had a spell working in New York, said: "I've always known Cordon Bleu was the place to be as far as the best education is concerned."
He added: "Food should be from the heart and it's about expressing yourself. It should be saying something."
Interviewees were also set a test to identify herbs from scent alone and 23-year-old pastry chef Amber Zaman, also from Manchester, said: "I definitely know what the herbs look like but when it's just smell you begin to doubt yourself!
"Hopefully I picked the right ones. I was very nervous this morning but I think it went OK."
Atkinson, who has twice earned a Michelin star, has proved keen to offer opportunities to new starters through his first restaurant. He started out working on a fruit and vegetable stall in the Grainger Market 20 years ago and said he would have welcomed an award like this when he was young.
"I would have loved it - I was a YTS for two years for at PS35 a week."
He said it's all about helping the next generation of chefs. "The opportunity is there to grasp. It's exciting."
Loic Malfait said the training Le Cordon Bleu offers is demanding but "life-changing".
Its 40-plus schools in 20 countries train more than 25,000 students a year and having wider links with chefs currently hands-on in the industry is invaluable. Alan Swinson said: "We wanted somebody like Kenny to represent this part of the country.
"This year we wanted to involve chefs from the regions so it's not so London-based."
They hope it will help interest from UK-wide applicants to snowball next year.
"We are trying to engage people and provide building blocks to attract more people into the industry," he said.
Once the Cordon Bleu team complete their regional travels, they will whittle down the semi-finalists - picking two from the Newcastle interviews - for the final in London later this year which will involve showing off cooking skills.
The winner will learn classical and advanced culinary techniques and management over 12 months and have an internship in a two-Michelin star restaurant. He or she will be awarded a Diplome de Cuisine followed by a three-month Diploma in Culinary Management.
Food should be from the heart and it's about expressing yourself. It should be saying somethingPairo Nowroozi
Scholarship Award semi-finalist <B Pairo Nowroozi
Le Cordon Bleu Scholarship Award semi-finalist Amber Zaman