The six finalists, who were whittled down from 18 competitors, are:
- Gemma Almond, the General Tarleton, Ferrensby, N Yorks
- Mark Birchall, L'Enclume, Cartmel, Cumbria
- Kenneth Culhane, BaxterStorey, Barclays, London
- Stephen Stevens, Cleifiog Uchaf, Anglesey
- Kevin Sutherland, BaxterStorey, Barclays, London
- Kevin Tew, Corrigan's, Mayfair, London
The national final is set to take place on 29 March at Westminster Kingsway College in London. Unlike previous rounds, recipe details will be kept secret from the competitors until 30 minutes before the start, when they will be given the recipe and ingredients for a main dish, either classic or modern, which they will be asked to prepare and present to judges in two hours.
The name of the winner will be revealed at an award ceremony at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park in London on the same evening.
To make it through to the final, the six were asked to prepare a rice-based recipe to serve four people within two-and-a-half hours using the following five shellfish, with an accompanying mixed salad. The shellfish were:
- Eight razor clams, in shell
- 500g mussels, in shell
- 1kg brown crab, live
- Four scallops, in shell
- 200g brown shrimp, unpeeled
They also had to make a dessert from a mystery box of ingredients, including Cox apples, cinnamon stick, lemons, sugar, milk, eggs and flour.
Commenting on the announcement of the national finalists, judge Michel Roux Snr said: "I am delighted that we have such a great spread of experience and backgrounds in the final, so many nationalities, some that have been cooking for years and others that are starting out."
Gary Rhodes said: "I loved these ingredients; the competitors really had to get the balance of flavours just right to avoid masking the simplicity of the seafood. There were some heated debates among the judges in order to agree on the final winners. We are in for one of the most exciting finals."
Gemma Almond, the youngest competitor at 23, said: "It's amazing I can't believe I'm in the final. I only started working in a professional kitchen in October last year, before that I was a waitress, this is my first competition, and it's been a whirlwind."
Meanwhile, Kevin Sutherland, a finalist last year who works alongside Kenneth Culhane at Level 31 Barclays in London for BaxterStorey, said: "It's phenomenal to get to the final again, I'm stoked that Kenneth got through too, if I don't win I hope he does."
By Neil Gerrard
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