Food Critic Richard McComb watches the kitchen stars of tomorrow in action in Birmingham.
The competitors’ main dishes speak of culinary sophistication and a considerable degree of flair.
Sidrah Zahid, from Birmingham, is preparing a seared supreme of corn-fed chicken, filled with sun-blushed tomatoes and fresh tarragon, served on tagliatelle with a medley of deftly trimmed vegetables.
Ellis Snookes is jiggling with a braised thyme potato which will accompany a fillet of beef with wilted green cabbage and crispy bacon, garlic squash puree and a Madeira mushroom jus.
Lizzie Hope, who like Ellis is from Shropshire, is testing the temperature on a canon of chicken. She will finish it with a morel mushroom mousse, morel sauce and fondant potato.
The desserts being prepared by the seven-strong group of finalists are no less ambitious. There is a filo lemon meringue pie; a warm chocolate and raspberry pudding with ice cream and raspberry coulis; and a plum tarte tatin sweetly bolstered by elderflower jelly and Amaretto mascarpone.
All of the cooks’ luxury menus have been devised on a budget of £8 and have to be cooked, from scratch, in just 90 minutes.
But that’s not the most surprising aspect of this competition – that is the age of the entrants, who are 13 to 16, although 12-year-olds are also eligible.