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23 February 2012

Cardiff and Vale College student Leo to cook for Wales in national competition

A Cardiff and Vale College student and aspiring chef has beaten off competition from the length and breadth of Wales to make it to the finals of a prestigious UK-wide culinary contest.

Leo Hacker won the Welsh regional final of the FutureChef competition last week and will now go on to the national finals in London. The 16-year-old Pathways to Apprenticeships (PTA) Chefs Diploma programme student from Cardiff had to produce a main course and dessert with a set budget of £8 in one and a half hours.

Leo impressed the judges with his fish dish featuring sustainable Pollock poached and skewered with lemongrass, served on diced butternut squash with a white butter sauce and shallots. It was accompanied by shredded curly Kale, lardons of bacon, mini carrot balls and a sprinkling of pine nuts. Dessert comprised a tartlet filled with crushed, fresh raspberries with a lemon curd style topping and Italian meringue.

CAVC (Vale) Chef Lecturer Kevin Fairlie said: The day was very busy - the competitors had one hour to produce the main course then 30 minutes to serve up the dessert. The judges told me Leo’s timing was spot on, and one also said that they completely cleared Leo’s plate.

“It was a good competition with a couple of really good candidates. But the judges said the flavours on Leo’s plate were far and away the most outstanding there.”

The UK final will be held in Westminster College on March 26. There will be 12 competitors and a panel of nine judges led by celebrity chef Brian Turner CBE where Leo will have two hours to cook a two course meal from a specially selected basket of ingredients.

“I’m really pleased for Leo,” Kevin said. “It’s been good for him as he’s really come on in his methodology and the way he works since the beginning of the competition. I’ve seen him develop in his professional approach and the way he applies himself to his work.”

Leo, who won the FutureChef local final in November last year, said: “I’m really proud to have won the Welsh regional final – everyone I’ve told about it has been really impressed. Going to London is going to be amazing; I’m really looking forward to it.

“My parents have always managed pubs, bars and restaurants and I’ve grown up in that environment so it seemed natural that I would go into hospitality and catering. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”

As part of his PTA course, Leo has a work placement with the Hilton Hotel Cardiff where chefs in the pastry section the kitchen helped him develop his dessert.

“I’m really enjoying my placement and I really like the people,” Leo said. “Everyone who works in the kitchen has a different personality and a different way of doing things. It’s interesting to see how different people work together.”

FutureChef is organised by Springboard UK. CAVC’s Vale training restaurant, the Glamorgan Suite, has been hosting local heats of the competition for eight years and has always supported Springboard UK activities whenever possible.