This week saw round two of the student cook-off commence, and admittedly the standards of this unprecedented competition were simply fantastic. Who said students couldn’t cook? However, it was time for the infamous mystery box challenge where our budding chefs went in with their blinkers on, and in the case of some, full clad blindfolds as the three key ingredients were presented…..With the advantage from last week, Leong had first dibs over the choice of a key ingredient which everyone was to incorporate somehow into their recipe using an accompanying array of store cupboard delights. Amongst them was a humble kohlrabi, some fragrant sage and of course the chosen ingredient. As suggestive cries of ‘ginger’ and ‘galangal’ echoed the walls, we finally established that in fact the knobbly, weird and extraterrestrial vegetable that Leong had chosen was in fact a Jerusalem artichoke. With many horrified faces, following 10 minutes planning and collecting their bowls of ingredients, their hour began.

With what started with some confused faces at the sight of the overwhelming choice (fruit and vegetables were kindly supplied by Charlie Hicks) , soon turned into a feast of impressive dishes. The noise level soon fell alarmingly silent as concentration took hold  and the addition of our new judges, Genevieve Taylor and Lorna Knapman observed the progress. With two wooden crates full of heaving seasonal vege and herbs including chestnuts, salsify and celeriacs, the cooks were spoilt for choice but each managed to produce an individual dish.

Once again the judging table was lined with elegantly presented plates featuring those stubborn artichokes in one way or another (some more obvious than others). A morish pan-fried duck breast from Anna, sat happily with a sweet apple and artichoke puree, black pudding and a delicate crunchy salad. The judges delighted in her efforts and thought. Shanice’s robustly presented pork chop with parsnip and artichoke mash and a mustard cider sauce was enough to make any man happy. Some delightful sumac flavoured artichokes crisps from Laura hit the spot on top of her chicken risotto and a pasta dish once again from Olmo. Leong gave us another knockout including crispy pan fried sea bass, on a vibrant beetroot puree keeping three buttery artichoke fondants company amongst some wilted kale. The standards were certainly high and with few places left, it was another challenging effort as we had to say a sorry farewell to Joe. His spicy fried polenta cakes with garlic and artichoke puree, although inventive and original, just didn’t match the others this week!

By Jessie Wardlaw