The National Association of Care Catering (NACC) has announced Aaron Watson of Primrose Bank Care Home in Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire, is the NACC Care Chef of the Year 2021.
Watson was awarded the title yesterday (7 October) in front of NACC members and delegates during the official opening of the NACC Training & Development Forum 2021 at the East Midlands Conference Centre in Nottingham.
Matt Knott of Fernhill House Majesticare in Worcester and Daniel Kavanagh of Green Tree Court, Lexicon Healthcare in Exeter, took second and third places, respectively.
The closely fought national final took place on Wednesday (6 October) at the new venue of Manor Farm Cookery School in Grantham, Lincolnshire. Entrants were challenged to create a two-course, nutritionally balanced menu (main and dessert) in 90 minutes that was appropriate for people in a care setting. The combined food cost for both courses had to be no more than £2.25 per head based on three portions. The menu also had to feature a product from sponsor Unilever Food Solutions' sector-relevant portfolio.
Watson impressed the judges with his menu of honey and ginger glazed pork fillet served with garlic and chilli pak choi, potato croquette, carrot purée and fresh apple followed by a dessert of sweet chilli roasted pineapple with coconut ice-cream and spiced rum caramel sauce.
The judges praised his "innovative, resident- and person-centred menu that expertly brought together delicious Asian flavours in a modern, exciting way, while showing a sound understanding of nutritional requirements".
Watson said: "I thought the final went well for me, but the other chefs were so good I didn't dare imagine winning! It was fantastic to see what the other finalists were doing and to learn from their expertise too. I'm just very pleased to be creating food that puts smiles on people's faces."
Kavanagh was awarded Highly Commended Main for his pan-roasted chicken with wild mushroom and pastry lid, while David Whistler of the Cambridgeshire Care Home got Highly Commended Dessert for his pear frangipane.
Sue Cawthray, NACC national chair, said: "After more than a year of experiencing life through a screen, it was fantastic to bring the competition back into the kitchen where it belongs. All the talented finalists put on an amazing performance and were both impressive and inspiring…
"Care chefs are highly-skilled individuals, whose knowledge and culinary flair makes a real difference to the wellbeing and quality of life of the older and vulnerable people they dedicate their talent to. This has been spotlighted during the challenges of the pandemic and that is why this fantastic competition is so important. It not only gives our chefs the opportunity to push boundaries, develop their skills and shine, it gives care catering a platform that demonstrates and celebrates the value and contribution of care chefs up and down the country.
"They go above and beyond every day to ensure their residents and clients always enjoy person-centred, nutritious and delicious food, whatever life throws at them, and that is certainly something to be proud of and to shout about."