The final. The moment we’ve all been anticipating. The judges have advanced in numbers with the return of Angela Mount and Lorna Knapman and the latest addition of Xanthe Clay, to intimidate and grill the chefs. Last week, students were instructed to devise a list of ingredients for a chosen show stopper recipe to help them win. With the condition that they use all and only these, they were forced into some intuitive and creative inventions. The challenge was then simple. Cook your dish. With the table lined with bags of their requested produce, the students perched timidly on the edges of their chairs, in need of a stiff drink even before the surprising announcement of challenge one….

No dinner is complete without a dessert…..chocolate fondant to be precise. The mystery challenge this week was to produce a gooey centred, sweet and temptingly molten dark chocolate fondant. Before cooking their main dish, students were given the same ingredients, measurements, simple oven temperature, and just 15 minutes to make their mixture, fill their moulds and chill in the fridge for later. With that complete with limited drama, it was time for the main event. While Ana ploughed faithfully through her tasks with stern concentration, Rosie chopped merrily at a butternut squash. Leong hijacked half the kitchen as he multi-tasked liquid butter, sugar thermometers and twine wrapped chicken……? Shanice devilled with seasonal produce as she stirred and chopped, care free and relaxed.

The standards once again were excellent and after just 1 hour, each student produced a dish for the judge’s biblical last gourmet supper. With just a speedy explanation of their creative work it was off back to the kitchen to add the finishing touches to their baking chocolate rivals while the judges debated their attempts. Leong once again made us smile with his attractive presentation of his take on a roast dinner inspired by ‘oyako’ (Japanese for mother and child). Buttery poached chicken, crispy soft boiled egg, mirin cooked potato fondant, miso onions and a vibrant avocado and parsley puree. His simple touch with the chicken let the other flavours enhance its natural taste. Ana’s hearty rosemary and garlic potato gratin, oozing with cream, had the judges ploughing their forks for seconds. This towered alongside some creamy peppercorn pork medallions and a berry sauce accompanied by a crisp bright salad. A balanced and moreish dish, the judges couldn’t knock it. Shanice played it safe this week serving up a crispy duck breast, a seasonally delicious scarlet plum sauce, wilted spinach and potato fondant. Finally Rosie served us an orange and soy glazed duck breast on a bed of cumin roasted vegetables and creamy celeriac puree. Her sauce packed a punch but the delicate cumin flavours of her vegetables was commended by Xanthe.

With all the play for at this level stage, the fondant countdown began. Four desserts that were certainly and without doubt ‘melt-in-the-middle’ or more specifically, ‘all-over-the-plate, graced the table. With only Rosie presenting us with an architecturally sound chocolate fondant with gooey centre, the others tried to rescue their molten efforts with the addition of raspberry ripple mascarpone, caramelised hazelnuts or berry coulis to disguise their undercooked fondants. The judges none the less, sampled these sweet treats. With a final of contestants each having received highly commended in at least one week of the competition, the overall performance and attitude were discussed and debated. But, without a whisper of a clue, students were banished one last time to await the results at the awards….

By Jessie Wardlaw