The National Association of Care Catering's (NACC) Care Cook of the Year 2015 competition has opened for entries.
Last year's contest saw a record number of entries, which led to the grand final doubling in size. The NACC said that it expects the interest in the competition to be in greater as it moves into its 15th year.
Entrants have been asked to create and substantiate a tasty and nutritionally-balanced two-course menu, comprising main and dessert, suitable for service users in a care setting.
The combined food cost for both courses must be no more than £1.50 per head based on four portions, reflecting the restricted budgets to which care cooks often have to work.
All entries will be judged by a central panel for consistency and those shortlisted will have the opportunity to show off their culinary skills and knowledge at one of the six regional cook-offs.
The two highest-scoring competitors from each regional heat will go on to cook in the grand final on 10 June 2015 at Barking & Dagenham Technical Skills Academy.
Neel Radia, NACC national chair, described the competition as vital to the sector because it gives care cooks the opportunity to showcase to stakeholders and the wider industry the dedication and excellence they deliver every day.
"As well as the culinary ability and flair to create great-tasting and well-presented food, very specific knowledge and understanding is required by cooks and chefs when planning menus for the elderly and vulnerable entrusted to their care. Important factors such as nutrition, budget restrictions, specific dietary needs and individual demands, for example for those with dementia or dysphagia, must be understood and considered at all times.
"Care cooks must also keep abreast of developments in regulations and legislation, such as the new allergen regulations introduced this month," he said.
"I urge everyone, whether working in care homes or in community settings such as meals on wheels and luncheon clubs, to enter this prestigious competition and show the wider industry exactly what we're made of."
The deadline for entries is 6 February 2015. Visit www.thenacc.co.uk for more information and to download an entry form.