Two Somerset teenagers win top accolades at the South West Chef of the Year competition

PUBLISHED: 10:28 22 January 2019 | UPDATED: 17:15 24 January 2019

Sophie Kennard, South West Student/Apprentice Chef of the Year, in the kitchen

Sophie Kennard, South West Student/Apprentice Chef of the Year, in the kitchen

Steve Haywood

They faced a cooking challenge which would scare even the toughest professional, but Sophie Kennard and Conor Boakes emerged triumphant at the South West Chef of the Year competition

A pupil at Whitstone School in Shepton Mallet, 13-year-old Conor Boakes was named South West Junior Chef of the Year 2018. Meanwhile, Sophie Kennard, 19, from Brompton Regis is the new South West Student/Apprentice Chef of the Year. Sophie was also given the award for Best Showcase of Regional Ingredients, beating every other contestant in all categories.

The South West Chef of the Year competition was set up by chef Michael Caines 15 years ago as a way of encouraging and developing the careers of chefs across the region, from school age through to professionals at the top of their game. It’s also about celebrating the wealth of produce coming from the region.

The judging panel was made up of big chef names from the South West, including Liam Finnegan, Neil Haydock, Chris Tanner, Stephane Delourme and Peter Gorton, along with Michael Caines.

Sophie is a catering student at Exeter College and works as an apprentice at The Swan Inn, Bampton. She went to Kingsmead School in Wiveliscombe and has cooked all her life, learning from her parents.

She is passionate about using local ingredients in their correct seasons. “I grew up on a farm and it made me very aware of how things are grown and where they come from. To carry on as an industry we need to be local and seasonal. We can’t be flying things half way around the world just because we want to.”

The competition was nerve-wracking she says. “The judges are quite scary as they watch you but don’t say anything – but they were writing things down!”

As it happens, the judges said: “Sophie’s knowledge of her ingredients was exceptional. Her menu demonstrated a superb balance of ingredients and textures and was based predominantly on a diverse range of locally sourced ingredients.”

“I was up against very good people,” she says. “I came back after the day of the final and told dad I was rubbish! I was so shocked when I won.”

For Sophie there’s never been any doubt, she has always wanted to be a chef and her ultimate dream is to have her own restaurant on Exmoor or near to her home where she will use totally locally sourced and seasonal produce.

Conor Boakes, South West Junior Chef of the Year 2018Conor Boakes, South West Junior Chef of the Year 2018

Like Sophie, Conor has always enjoyed cooking and says it’s his dad, who used to be a chef, who inspired him.

He cooks at home every Friday and sometimes on a Saturday, he says: “I occasionally do meals for the family and if friends come round then I’ll do a starter or dessert and dad does the main.”

He likes to find local ingredients and will go foraging in the fields around his Shepton Mallet home. Sorrel is one of his favourite finds, he says.

“I like seeing the different ways I can use things and flavours. I like doing complicated things.

The English mace he used in his recipe came from the garden. “We grow some veg, but lots of herbs and fruit,” he says. His mixed berry powder contained his blackberries and mulberries from a friend’s garden. He uses a dehydrator to dry ingredients and intensify their flavour. “You get five berries into one teaspoon,” he says.

It was his cookery teacher at school who suggested that Conor and his classmates had a go at the competition. Remarkably calm about his success he says: “I was nervous when we arrived at the place, but once I’d started cooking I had to concentrate on that.”

His teacher was “very pleased”, he says, and his friends? “They were all pretty amazed, they expected me to fail.”

“Conor was extremely calm and organised in the kitchen and prepared a delicious venison dish, demonstrating technical skills well beyond his years,” said the judges.

Sophie Kennard, South West Student/Apprentice Chef of the YearSophie Kennard, South West Student/Apprentice Chef of the Year

This year’s overall winner, claiming the title of South West Chef of the Year is Tim Kendall of The Idle Rocks, St Mawes. Last year’s winner, Jamie Coleman is currently head chef at the Notley Arms in Monksilver.

For more information, visit the South West Chef of the Year website.

See the recipes that helped them win...

Conor’s winning main course dinner: Roast venison loin with a faggot, pommes anna and celeriac purée and a blackberry sauce

Serves 2

Conor's winning main dishConor's winning main dish



- 1 venison loin (about 340g)

- 2 tbsp rapeseed oil

- 10g dried mushroom powder

- 20g butter

- Wild thyme powder


- ½ shallot

- 2 sage leaves

- Sprig of English mace

- 50g ox liver

- 50g streaky bacon (plus extra for wrapping)

- 125g fatty belly pork

- 50g minced venison

- 50g breadcrumbs

Pickled blackberries:

- 3 tbsp dark brown sugar

- 100ml cider vinegar

- 4 dried juniper berries

- 1 clove of garlic

- 6 blackberries

Blackberry and rowan sauce:

- 6 tbsp cider vinegar

- 500ml mushroom stock

- 3 tbsp homemade rowan jelly (or redcurrant)

- 150ml Lyme Bay blackberry wine

- A few blackberries

Wild thyme powder

- 1 ½ tsp homemade mixed berry powder

Celeriac purée:

- ½ celeriac

- 3 tbsp double cream

- 20g butter

Pommes anna:

- 500g waxy potatoes

- 50g butter


- 150g kale

- Rapeseed oil, for deep frying


For the blackberry and rowan sauce: Add the cider vinegar to the pan, then pour in the stock, rowan jelly, wine. thyme and berry powders. Reduce until thickened. Add the blackberries and carry on cooking until they soften.

Pommes anna: Slice peeled potatoes into rounds as thin as possible using a mandolin. Butter individual rings. Wash and dry the sliced potato before seasoning. Place in the rings and butter each level and bake at 200°C until soft. While baking weigh down.

Celeriac purée: Roughly chop the celeriac and cook until soft. Drain off the water and add cream and butter, let the cream thicken and then purée.

Pickled blackberries: Dissolve the sugar into the vinegar over a low heat with the juniper and garlic. Remove from heat and add the blackberries to pickle for 1 hour.

Venison: Season and roll in dried mushroom powder. Brown on all sides in a hot, oiled pan. Add the thyme and butter before finishing cooking in the oven for approximately 8 minutes. Rest for 10 minutes.

Kale: Deep fry until crispy, season with salt and pepper.

Faggot: Fry off the onions and herbs. Mix with all the ingredients and wrap in bacon. Cook in the oven for 20 minutes.

Conor sourced his wild venison and blackberries from the Mendips, used Somerset rapeseed oil and cider vinegar and he made his own dried mushroom and thyme and

berry powders in a dehydrator. He also made his own rowan jelly, but redcurrant could be used instead.

Sophie’s winning main course dish: Cornish hake, celeriac and apple with a Somerset cider sauce

Serves 4

Sophie's winning main dishSophie's winning main dish


- 4 portions of hake

- 3 bramley cooking apples

- 75g dark brown sugar

- 1 medium sized celeriac

- 2 granny smiths eating apples

- 2 tbsp mayonnaise (homemade is preferable)

- Lemon juice

- 1 dessert spoon of wholegrain mustard

- 300ml good quality chicken stock

- 300ml Orchard Pig cider

- 200ml Somerset apple juice, not from concentrate

- 50g shallot

- 200ml double cream

- 25g & 200g butter

- 8 small new potatoes


For the burnt apple purée: Slice the cooking apples into eight and remove the cores, place these into a lined baking tray and cover in the brown sugar. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes at 200°C until soft and caramelised. Blitz in a blender and pass through a sieve to remove any lumps of skin.

For the remoulade: On a mandolin, finely slice about half a celeriac and the 2 granny smiths, then slice into julienne (long thin strips). In a bowl mix the celeriac and apple with mayonnaise, the juice of half a lemon and the wholegrain mustard. Season to taste.

For the sauce: Place the stock, cider, apple juice and shallot into a pan, reduce by two thirds, add the cream and simmer gently until thickened, strain out the shallot to serve.

Hasselback potatoes: Slice into but not fully through the new potatoes at 5mm intervals all the way along, place these into a pan with 200g of butter and roast in a 180°C oven basting every 10 minutes for around 30 minutes until crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle.

For the celeriac: Slice the other half of the celeriac into a medium dice and sauté off in 25g of butter over a medium heat on the stove for around 8 minutes until soft, drain off the butter before serving.

To cook the hake, warm a large non-stick frying pan with a little oil until hot, season the hake with a little salt and pepper and place skin side down in the pan. Once in the pan, turn the heat down a little and when colour appears to come halfway up the fish (about 3 minutes but can vary between fish) turn over onto the flesh side and add a knob of butter. Use this to baste the fish and continue to cook on this side for 2 minutes.

Many components of this dish can be made ahead, saving time for you if cooking this for a party of people. The remoulade and the burnt apple purée can be made a day in advance, just warm slightly when plating up.

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