Jess, who is studying food tech at AS level, said: “I like learning new skills and I like it when people enjoy my dishes.”
In the heat of the final at UCB, the former College of Food, Jess produced a delicious dish of pan-fried salmon on a bed of baby leeks with an immaculate beurre blanc. To follow, she made a warm and oozy chocolate fondant with a white chocolate and cardamom sauce.
She was the only competitor to use fish and caught the eye of the judges, including Glynn Purnell and Peter Brown, from Malmaison, Birmingham, for her coolness, technique and near faultless cooking. Future competitors take note – Jess was the only finalist to remember to serve her main dish on a warm plate.
Purnell, chairman of the judges, praised the contestants’ work and said it was great to see children cooking so confidently at a young age. The Michelin-star chef started working in professional kitchens – “possibly illegally,” he adds – when he was 14.
He said: “I loved football and played to county level, but cooking took over. I didn’t revise much at school because I knew I was going to be a chef but I wouldn’t advise that now. You need a back-up plan.”
Purnell said the high standards displayed at Birmingham’s FutureChef final left him optimistic about the industry.
He said: “I think the future of British cooking in terms of skills is definitely on the up. There was no one of this age cooking like this 10 years ago.”
Looking around the kitchens at UCB, he added: “They are doing roast duck and ballontines of chicken, not Victoria sponges and rock cakes.
“It’s important chefs put in time and mentor kids when they are 13 and 14, which is a fantastic time to start. There’s no point complaining about standards in the industry if we don’t help.”
Jess will compete in the national final at Westminster Kingsway College, London, on March 21.
* For details about FutureChef, go to http://futurechef.springboarduk.net