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TV chef 'blown away' by 'absolutely sensational' visit to Ashfields

A top Yorkshire chef who was a contestant on BBC’s Great British Menu TV show has described the food and service she enjoyed from York College’s Level Three Professional Chef/Patisserie students as “absolutely sensational”.

Steph Moon, who has cooked for the likes of religious leader Desmond Tutu, former Soviet Union president Mikhail Gorbachev and comedian Rowan Atkinson, was among a distinguished guest list at last night’s Student Showcase event in our Ashfields Restaurant.

The evening was a chance for local employers to experience first-hand the kitchen and front-of-house skills of our hospitality students with representatives from Castle Howard, The Grand, Middlethorpe Hall, Middletons Hotel, Rudding Park and Skosh all in attendance.

Having previously worked at the world-famous Dorchester Hotel in Park Lane and now employed as a chef consultant at Harrogate-based luxury hotel Rudding Park, Steph knows a thing or two about fine-dining experiences, but added that she was “blown away” by the quality of the night’s six-course tasting menu during her visit to Sim Balk Lane.

High praise indeed from somebody about whom Great British Bake Off judge Prue Leith once said: “I wish I could cook like this chef can cook.”

The guests tucked into canape, starter, fish, meat, dessert and petit four dishes (the full details of which can be seen below) with Steph enthusing: “The service and food was top quality.

“The entire Tasting Menu from the first canape to the last macaron was absolutely sensational. I was blown away and, whilst I wouldn’t say I was surprised by the standard, I was really delighted with it.

“Every guest felt very relaxed and we had a lovely evening. We were very well looked after without anybody being intrusive, which is what you’re always hoping for in a restaurant.

“All the students were smiling and engaging and, to serve so many people to that standard, was really, really impressive.”

The beef fillet was cooked in corn butter rather than being deep fried. Gio and Steph discuss techniques (below right) and are joined in the kitchen by Neil Bentinck, head chef and owner of Skosh, and executive chef Matt Wilkinson (below left)

Admitting that choosing her highlights from the meal was difficult, Steph added: “The whole menu was full of such good dishes. The beef fillet was beautiful and pink and the fish wasn’t over-cooked – it was stunning.

“I could still taste the tuna tartare after the meal was finished and, if I was to choose a favourite, then it would be that and the dessert. They really stood out.”

The students’ efforts were led and overseen by head chef Gio Achenza, whose expert guidance was also recognised by Steph.

“It’s exciting, reassuring and great to know there are tutors at the College who are passionate about what they do,” she pointed out. “That shines through to the students and that’s super because, when they have great tutors, it creates a great legacy for the next generation.

“These students will be going out to industry already being able to cook and serve, which is superb.”

Gio, meanwhile, hailed an “outstanding performance” from his students on the night and revealed that they had a significant input into the choice of the Lime key west with whipped ganache and raspberry sorbet dessert that tickled Steph’s taste buds.

“It was an outstanding performance from the students and I think they nailed it,” he declared. “Everything was on time service wise and the communication between front and back of house was spot on.

“Some of the cooking techniques were a bit different and quite difficult with the fillet of beef being cooked in corn butter rather than being deep-fried. That was quite unusual, but we want to push boundaries and challenge the students and they reacted really, really well.

“They had a massive input in terms of the menu, especially on the dessert side and the petit fours. The Level 3 course requires the students to develop their own dishes and menu, so it’s important they are having that influence on a menu for an event like this.

“These events are also a great experience for them. There aren’t many colleges where you would be able to stage something like this and it’s really important for us to get to know and engage with the people who were good enough to come as our guests.”

Simon Vaughan was one of the students working in the kitchen on the night.

He combines his College course with working at The Pheasant Hotel’s 2 AA Rosette restaurant during his free days and at weekend.

Of the evening’s success, he said: “Everything went very smoothly. I worked on all of the dishes, but I was primarily in charge of the beef course, so I was prepping down the fillet, breadcrumbing it and working closely with Gio in terms of what he wanted from the dish.

"He wanted it cooked with butter and the herbs flamed from the bottom to create an aroma rather than it being deep-fried. Those little things give us, as younger people, ideas and these events are massively important.

“Gio’s service style is also really easy-going. He’s good at managing people who haven’t got too much experience and keeping the kitchen a calm environment. There’s never any stress.”

The students were split into two teams and those who worked front-of-house for the Showcase will get their chance in the kitchen at Ashfields’ next event.

Joe Sansom admitted that he would have preferred cooking responsibilities but also recognised the importance of getting a taste for life outside of the kitchen in terms of his personal development.

“It was really good to see so many big companies represented and working front-of-house was a very valuable experience because, if I do get a job as a chef in the kitchen, you need to appreciate the struggles that front-of-house have to deal with and that impacts on the pace you need to cook the food,” he reasoned.

Six of the best: The delicious Showcase dishes...

Would you like to experience a meal cooked and served by our students in Ashfields? We have a wide range of themed nights and afternoons that are open to the public with more details available here

Want to learn more about our Level 3 Professional Cookery (Chef/Patisserie) course? Then, please click here