Celebrations are in order for two of the UK’s best pub chefs – Amy Houghton of The Shoulder of Mutton in Hebden Bridge, nominated by Craig Whittaker MP and Kevin MacLean of The Rat Inn, Hexham, nominated by Guy Opperman MP. The pair took the spotlight on 7th February, as they were crowned winners at the Parliamentary Pub Chef of the Year Awards, held at the House of Commons.
Run by the British Beer & Pub Association and the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group, in partnership with Nestlé Professional, the event was a huge success with over 80 selected attendees from the education, media and pub industry including celebrity chef and judge, Paul Merrett.
Over 130 nominations were received from MPs around the country who selected a pub chef from within their constituency for the awards. The competition was intense, making for an onerous task of whittling the nominees down to four finalists in each of the two categories. A cook-off was staged in January where each of the finalists had the opportunity to demonstrate their creativity and flair in presenting a dish to the select panel of judges before an interview with the judges. The tension has been mounting in the run-up to the results.
First up was Young Pub Chef winner, 28 year old Amy Houghton nominated by Craig Whittaker MP (Calder Valley) for her passion and skill at the Shoulder of Mutton in Hebden Bridge. She was followed by the winner of the Pub Chef category, which went to Kevin MacLean, who was nominated by Guy Opperman MP (Hexham) for his chef skills at The Rat Inn, Anick.
Both awards were presented by Mike Wood MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group, who said; “It was great to see even more MPs engaging with their local pubs and nominating some fantastic chefs for this year’s competition. The level of ability shown throughout the contest has been hugely impressive. Amy and Kevin can be tremendously proud of their achievement.”
In the cook-off, which took place at the bespoke culinary training venue, Hospitality House, in London, Amy wowed the judges with a delicious venison dish, while Kevin cooked brill with razor clams, perfectly seasoned and well balanced.
Amy said: “I’m in shock, I really am. I was happy with my dish, but I didn’t think for a minute that I’d won. I’m my own biggest critic and it was a tough competition, the standard was really high. I chose to do venison for the cook-off because I love it, it’s probably one of my favourite meats. The town I live in is really small, so I went for things that I knew I could source locally, that would complement the dish well.
"Everyone was really routing for me back in the pub, they were actually live streaming the awards ceremony tonight in front of the customers so they saw that I’d won at the same time I found out! Winning has given me more confidence in myself and I would really like to thank my MP Craig Whittaker for nominating me. Coming to the House of Commons tonight has been amazing, but so surreal, I feel as if I’m dreaming – I’ll have to open the box and look at the award in the morning to remember that this really did happen!"
Kevin said: “It’s an honour to win and I would personally like to thank Guy Opperman for nominating me in the first place. Hopefully the profile of this competition will keep rising and rising and bring more chefs into the industry, which in turn will raise the awareness of the great British pub and all the good food and great work all these people across the country are doing. It is a great experience to be here at the House of Commons and part of such a huge event, winning really topped it all off!”
Brigid Simmonds, Chief Executive, British Beer & Pub Association:
“The standard of cooking on display in this year’s competition really was outstanding, all of the finalists should feel very proud of what they have achieved.
“Particular congratulations must go of course to the winners, Kevin and Amy, who displayed such flair and passion for their food. Pubs are increasingly home to some of the best British chefs which is very exciting for the future of our sector.”
Charlotte Ponti, Savoury Foods Manager at Nestlé Professional UK: “This year’s standards have been really impressive. Not only the participants were creative and technically excellent, but they also demonstrated strong work ethic and drive. It is exciting to see that there are such great talents in pubs and promising of a bright future. All the participants can be really proud of what they achieved and we wish them lots of success.”