As Brighton’s oldest running restaurant, English’s are giving back to the culinary community by hosting ‘English’s Chef-Off’ on May 9th 2019, which aims to celebrate and find Brighton best emerging chef. In order to do this, seven young chefs competed against one another by cooking a dish of their choice in 20 minutes which was judged by Michael Bremner of 64 Degrees and murmer, Steven Edwards who is a Masterchef Professionals Winner and English’s own Yuri Magni.
Set outside of on the English’s patio on the fringe of the Laines, the red tent-cum-kitchen overlooked a flurry of guests looking to catch a glimpse of the competitors in action. Michael Bremner noted beforehand that his was a “great platform for chefs” as they were giving young chefs working in some of Brighton’s busiest and best restaurants the chance to truly show their cooking expertise. The rain was pouring initially but when it came to turn on the heat for the first round, the clouds quickly retreated.
To go along with the theme of the surroundings, most of the dishes main component was fish, often locally sourced. First to step into the kitchen was Oliver Geering of Cin Cin, an incredibly popular Italian restaurant in Brighton. Oliver was cooking up a fillet of break with warm tartare sauce and asparagus. He was up against Hayley Pople of The Set who was preparing a chalk stream trout with Namayasai’s kou sai tai, an exciting element with a delicious fish. The 20 minutes steams by while watching the chefs cook their meals. The dishes are to be judged out of ten based on: inventiveness, flavour, presentation, use of produce, technical skill and the least amount of mise-en-place. Both dishes were looking rather exceptional when presented to the group of photographers. The two chefs then quickly disappeared up the stairs of English’s to present the food to the judges who would be tasting behind closed doors.
Up next was Isobel Humbey representing The Salt Room creating a dish of Halibut glazed with blood orange with blanched asparagus and sliced pickled celery. The blood orange flavours were incorporated into nearly all the ingredients, making what was looking to be a very coherent dish. Up against Isobel was Michael Notman-Watt, an Assistant Chef and Operations Manager from Silo. Michael who had previously worked under Michael Bremner at 64 Degrees was cooking up the only non-fish meal of the day, a Trenchmore Farm beef heart carpaccio with wild garlic pesto, as well as a sweet pickled rock samphire foraged from Brighton’s seafront. All sourced locally, of course! Isobel’s final dish was prepared beautifully, it looked light and vibrant as she posed with it in front of the crowds. Michael’s was equally pleasing, but the beef led the plate to look a lot denser in comparison. Still, a worthy shout for the title.
The last pair of chefs to face one another was Lizzie Scarlett May from local favourite Mexican street food restaurant, La Choza. Lizzie was facing Ciaran Steer, sous chef from the Market restaurant, which specialises in Spanish tapas small plates. The two chefs were both making dishes with those special Spanish and Mexican twists. Lizzie was giving us cockles and mussels, with garlic, hazelnut and a fresh jalapeño salsa with the special ingredient, Tequila! Ciaran on the other hand was preparing a fillet of Hake with a fabada (Spanish white bean stew) with crispy kale and a saffron sauce. Coming to the end of their allotted time, Lizzie’s dish looked minimal and delicate, with a huge pop of colour courtesy of the green jalapeño salsa. Similarly, Ciaran’s Hake was stacked gently on a bed of the stew, topped with the crispy kale. As appetising as they both looked, once again they were whisked upstairs before they got cold to be given to the three judges.
Due to some last-minute changes one of the competitors was unable to make it, leaving Paradiso Social’s very own Jan Tlusty to take to the tent by himself. Originally from the Czech Republic, Jan had experience at Silo, where fellow competitor Michael Notman-Watt is based. Turning a few heads in the process, Jan was going to be presenting a local white fish with potato, bread and egg. In another take, the dish was an abstract recreation of the quintessential fish and chips. Going solo in the kitchen, Jan seemed incredibly at home and calm while preparing the intriguing dish. In high spirits, Jan showed off the colourful and wonderfully presented dish to the crowds before handing over to the judges.
After a few minutes of excitement, the crowds spread around and began their mingling while the judges deliberated. A few fish and chip nibbles and sips of Sauvignon blanc later, the judges came down the stairs to gather in front of the kitchen. The crowd and competitors collected around eagerly to here to results of English’s Chef-Off 2019. Michael Bremner lead the proceedings by announcing third place, which went to Hayley Pople of The Set for her exciting trout dish. Bremner, explaining that this year was one of the hardest to judge as it was so close, announced that second place would be shared between two of the chefs. Both Isobel Humbey of The Salt Room and Michael Notman-Watt from Silo bagged a spot in second place.
Murmurs filtered throughout the crowd in anticipation for the winner to be announced. The winner would be receiving a £250 cheque and a bottle of champagne as their prize. After a few tense moments of silence, the judges announce the winner to be Jan Tlusty for his marvellous take on fish and chips! Throughout the process, Jan looked very at ease and confident in himself and his cooking which clearly translated well into the food he was serving.
The Chef-Off was brilliant in showing how much exciting talent can be found within our small city limits. These young chefs were proving that they are already at the top of their game with local, fresh British produce being used in every dish. If it was this close this year, come 2020, we could be seeing even more exciting, different and masterful dishes from a fresh batch of new culinary masters.