Trainee chefs crowned UK champions in live cook-off final!

Trainee chefs crowned UK champions in live cook-off final!

A trio of trainee chefs from New City College were crowned UK champions following an exciting live ‘cook-off’ at the final of the Country Range Student Chef Challenge 2022.

Students Maria Carbone, Sam Paoli and Paulo Dela Cruz described their win as ‘a dream come true’ and their tutor Jeff Mason said he was ‘quite emotional’.

The three, who are studying Level 3 Professional Cookery at the Hackney campus and train in the college’s OKN1 restaurant, competed under intense pressure in front of a live audience at the International Salon Culinaire based at the Excel Centre, London, where the Hotel, Restaurant & Catering Show was being held.

Seven other colleges from around the UK had made it through to the final, and all the teams were assessed under the watchful eyes of the judges – two of the top chefs in the country, Michel Roux Jr and Brian Turner – as they prepared, cooked and presented their dishes in timed conditions.

The New City College team’s menu and food were described as inventive and flavoursome with the judges praising their supreme cookery skills. They said: “We were really impressed and actually quite shocked by the quality of food. The team also had the smallest station but they were still able to win due to their tremendous teamwork and adaptability.”

Student Maria Carbone said: “It was an amazing feeling when we heard the judges announce our team as the winners. This means so much to me because I came to England from Venezuela in 2017, without my parents, and I only spoke a little English. I’m very proud and really appreciate the opportunity to take part in this competition.

“I was so excited as we prepared to start. We were ready for it and we had worked so hard we were determined to do well.”

Maria said New City College had given her ‘freedom, great opportunities and amazing experiences’ and she was very grateful. She added: “Studying ESOL here helped me a lot! I can speak English much better now. I also love the support I get from my teachers, Justin and Jeff. I feel like they want the best for me and they treat me like an adult. I also love the environment of the college. I’ve made good friends who are fun to be around.”

Sam Paoli said: “I was speechless and couldn’t quite believe what was happening when we won. I tried our dishes and I thought they were the best we had ever made, so I was happy enough – but then to hear we had won was incredible.”

Paulo Dela Cruz added: “The live competition was terrifying but at the same time it was fun! As soon as we started cooking, our team spirit kicked in and our nerves disappeared. To take the trophy home is a dream come true.”

Tutor Jeff Mason said: “I’m totally blown away and quite emotional to be honest. I’m just so happy for them as they have put in a huge amount of effort and have been so supportive towards each other. They’re a credit to me, themselves and the whole college, and I have no doubt they will go on to very successful careers in hospitality.”

As well as taking the title ‘Best in Show’, the students were also awarded gold standard from the Craft Guild of Chefs and won personalised Santoku chef knives from Flint & Stone Stagiaire.

The team from Hertford Regional College finished second (gaining silver standard) and Loughborough College were third (gaining silver standard).

The New City College team’s full menu was:


  • Seeded tuile, avocado and spinach purée and smoked salmon
  • Teriyaki marinated smoked eel sushi roll
  • Potato farl, chive & smoked trout mousse, cucumber pearls

Main course

  • Poached breast of guinea fowl with mousseline, braised leg and leek croquette, wild mushroom and braised barley, shallot purée, pea purée, wild mushroom and guinea fowl jus


  • Chocolate and orange tartlet, orange streusel, vanilla and orange ice cream, poached orange, orange and Cointreau sauce


NCC Senior Curriculum Manager for Catering & Hospitality, Justin McNamara, said: “The whole college is extremely proud. A massive congratulations to the team and to Jeff Mason who has nurtured them. They have spent countless hours practising and really deserved to win.”