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Lyons takes Blanc title at the second attempt

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It was second time lucky for Steve Lyons when he won the 2002 Raymond Blanc Scholarship two weeks ago at the chef-proprietor’s renowned two-Michelin-starred Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. Lyons was unplaced when he competed in the event in 2000, but this time he scooped the title after impressing judges with his take on the competition’s compulsory ingredient, duck.

“We had duck last time I was in the competition and I couldn’t believe it – after that, I just didn’t want to ever have to eat duck again,” said Lyons. “But I felt a lot more confident this time round – I just got my head down and concentrated on the cooking.”

He admitted to still being nervous cooking for a chef as renowned as Blanc. Speaking shortly after his victory, he joked: “I can actually hold a drink now without spilling it – my hands have finally stopped shaking.”

Lyons and his seven fellow finalists were required to serve three garnishes with the central element of duck with a cost cap of £15. In a two-hour cook-off, Lyons created roasted fennel and rosemary duck breast, which he served on a bed of mushroom risotto alongside balsamic-glazed baby onions and roasted cherry tomatoes.

The contrast of flavours and textures in the dish and the tenderness of the meat were particularly commended by the judges, led by Blanc. “The dish has the potential to be developed further and shows a lot of flair and understanding of cooking,” he commented.

The scholarship, now in its eighth year, is unique in being open only to aspiring chefs wanting to change career after having established themselves in another industry. Having made it to the final two years ago, 31-year-old Lyons resigned from his job in a design department of an audio manufacturing company to enrol on a hospitality management course at Blackpool College.

“I didn’t think I had a chance of getting through this time because of being a student studying to go into the industry,” said Lyons. However, Blanc was impressed by his commitment, and said: “He’s demonstrated his determination to change careers already and has clearly thought out what he wants to achieve.”

As the 2002 scholar, Lyons will spend a year working and training in the Le Manoir kitchens, as well as completing two stages in France. His ultimate aim is to combine the culinary expertise he gains during this apprenticeship with the business knowledge he has acquired during his hospitality course at Blackpool to open his own business.

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