The national finals of the Teflon Diamond Standard Awards (DSA) cookery competition took place on 25 January at Waitrose Cookery School in London; find out who won the categories

The national finals of the Teflon Diamond Standard Awards (DSA) cookery competition, organised by Dupree Creative, took place on 25 January at Waitrose Cookery School in London. The finals saw 23 competitors battling it out for the top spot in three categories, with the opportunity to take advantage of a three-year Specialised Chefs Scholarship for the Keen Young Cooks and Aspiring Student Chefs; while the Keen Home Cooks – who cooked a game dish on the day – had the chance to walk away with an all-expenses-paid weekend, including a bespoke cookery course.

The judging panel this year consisted of head judge Lesley Waters, James Golding, Simon Boyle, Paul Dayman, Jacks McDonnell and the 2013 DSA winner, James Ganderton.

The first half of the day was dedicated to the 10 Keen Young Cooks, aged between 13 and 16. After a short safety briefing, the novice cooks had 55 minutes to prepare their signature dish. Sixteen-year-old Harriet Morgan-Barstow, a student at Bay House School, won first place after wowing the judges with her deconstructed lemon meringue pie, and said of her prize: “I’m very pleased to win a place at Bournemouth [College] as it’s the course I was planning to apply for.”

It was then the turn of the two Keen Home Cooks and 11 Aspiring Student Chefs to don their aprons, but not before they attended an open forum with some of the chef judges. Each chef gave a short summary of their working life and then the floor was given to the finalists to ask questions. Simon Boyle, founder of the Beyond Food Foundation, which helps the homeless to gain employment in the catering industry, said that being a chef is the “most fantastic career you can ever have… You don’t have to have the highest grades to succeed in the industry.” Paul Dayman, a former Specialised Chef graduate and teacher at Bournemouth and Poole College, added that there is “no secret to this career, just hard work and dedication.”

Following the forum, it was time to test the amateur chefs’ mettle with the soufflé omelette challenge. Billowing egg creations of both sweet and savoury varieties emerged from the kitchen after 30 minutes, ready to be tasted and scored by the judges. Next, Paul Dayman demonstrated a classic fish dish, which the Aspiring Chefs then had to replicate in just half an hour, while the Keen Home Cooks were given a masterclass in filleting fish.

The final chance for the contestants to show what they were made of came in the guise of their signature dish – the dish that had originally secured their place in the competition.

Tasting and scoring complete, the judges announced that Gareth Ford, a keen shot from Peterborough, had topped the Keen Home Cooks category with his pan-seared duck breast with roasted winter vegetables. Gareth said the competition had been a “great experience” and when asked what he thought would encourage more people to cook with game, said: “Make it more readily available. We also need to remove the stigma that it’s difficult to cook with. It’s as easy to cook as a bit of steak.”

Runner-up in the Keen Home Cooks category, Jackie Wurr, from Stamford, Lincolnshire, shoots and cooks game at home on a regular basis. She said she’s had plenty of experience preparing game as she has lots of friends that shoot and, after all, “They don’t come oven ready!” She adapted her signature dish of pheasant with lemon risotto from a recipe using lamb as, she said it’s “a short season so you have to make the most of it.”

Joe Smith, a student at Brooksby Melton College, was crowned the winner of the Aspiring Student Chefs category, impressing the judges with his heritage carrot cake, which showcased his passion for local ingredients. n