New Line Learning student Leah Matthews has tickled the tastebuds of a top chef to become this year’s Junior Kent Young Chef.

Leah, 13, who lives in Shepway, devised a menu made up of recipes inspired by her school’s location.

Organised by Produced in Kent and judged by Graham Garrett, owner of The West House, Biddenden, the competition is open to all young people in the county aged 11 to 16. 

Leah, who began cooking with her mum Louise at a very early age, created her original and innovative recipe ‘Loose Duck Race’ based on NLL’s location, in Loose.

She was also inspired to create her dessert ‘Caught up in the Brambles’ by the berries growing in the hedgerows around the school in Boughton Lane. 

By winning, Leah automatically goes through to the Springboard Futurechef Regional Competition for London and the South East, being held in February. 

She was presented with a named chef’s jacket along with a prestigious trophy, cook’s knife, mandolin, cookery book and certificate.

Leah said: “Cooking is a great passion of mine. I also really enjoy art, so I combined together the subjects to make this artistic meal on a plate; telling the story of the area where my school is located.”

Leah has worked diligently, creating new recipes with ideas gleaned from professional chefs on TV and recipes online.  

“Winning the Junior Kent Young Chef Award 2017 is a real honour. It has made my school and family extremely proud, especially my mum; who first taught me to cook at home when I was little,” she said. “I hadn’t really thought much about cooking seriously until I went to New Line Learning where my teacher, Mrs Thomas, saw that I had potential, so she has encouraged me to practice. This is my first competition and I am shocked to have won”.

All entrants had to write and submit an original recipe for a main course as well as a dessert using seasonal ingredients are grown or produced in Kent and available in Autumn.

Leah’s ‘Loose Duck Race’ comprises seared, spiced duck breast with Kentish lavender and honey, served on a bed of pickled shitake mushrooms and wilted spinach with an accompaniment of bacon-wrapped potato roses.  

Her dessert, ‘Caught up in the Brambles’ comprises caramelised baked Cox apple slices, with roasted Kentish cobnut crumble, entangled with elderflower-scented cream and elderflower poached blackberries.

NLL’s Lead Practitioner for Food and Cookery Heather Thomas said: “Every individual can inspire to be the best given the opportunity. This is clearly evident with Leah.  She is an ambassador for New Line Learning Academy and an inspiration to all.”

She will also be given career-enhancing opportunities to improve her experience, skills and training with some of the best chefs in Kent.  

Heather Thomas said: “Leah has made everyone very proud - it is really up to her now how far her journey goes. The sky really is the limit!”

The live Cook Off took place at East Kent College, Broadstairs Campus, where eight young chefs prepared and cooked four plates of food in two hours, a main dish and a dessert.

The Judging Panel of Graham Garrett owner of Michelin Star, The West House in Biddenden, Tony Blake, Commercial Manager, kff, Patrick Hill, Head Chef at Thackerays, Tunbridge Wells and Roger Phillips from East Kent College, all noted how well the finalists worked in the kitchen.

Graham said: “All the finalists should be very proud of the way they have represented themselves today.  All the Judges were impressed by how calm and organised they all were in the kitchen during their preparation.  Cooking in a new environment is a mark of a true cook.  Each year we say the standard has risen, but I really do think this year has shown some really talented young cooks.”

Broadstairs and St. Peter’s Mayor Cllr Peter Shaw and Mayoress, Mrs Frances Shaw, were guests of honour and they thoroughly enjoyed the morning and were really impressed with the Kent Young Chef initiative and the youngsters’ ability and competence.  He congratulated the young chefs and applauded them for their ability.