TWO hospital chefs from North Wales are heading to London to battle it out in a top culinary contest.
Ready to wow a panel of expert judges at the event, Jason Redpath and Zoltan Furjes have been practising hard and are hopeful their delicious dishes will bring them glory for Wales.
Jason, aged 53, provides meals for patients at Colwyn Bay Hospital while 43-year-old Zoltan cooks for teenagers at Abergele Hospital’s adolescent unit.
It will be the first time Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board chefs have taken part in the Hot Cookery competition, part of the Hotelympia professional catering exhibition, and the pair are the only Welsh team competing.
Organised by the Hospital Caterers Association and sponsored by The Worshipful Company of Cooks, the bi-annual contest was last won in 2014 by chefs from the prestigious private London Clinic.
Jason and Zoltan were chosen by the Merseyside and North Wales Hospital Caterers Association branch to take part in this year’s final on March 3, where they will be up against seven other healthcare teams from England and Scotland.
Jason and Zoltan’s menu includes rolled beef rump steak, stuffed with spinach and mushroom duxelles, and served with potatoes and a medley of vegetables, followed by a quark and lemon cheesecake with raspberry sorbet.
Adhering to strict guidelines, the dishes must be suitable for patients, with an emphasis on reduced saturated fats, sugars and salts while being nutritionally sound.
Jason, who lives with his wife and two children in Rhos-on-Sea, said: “I am very much out of my comfort zone but we’ve put in a lot of practice after hours and late into the night, and it’s a great opportunity to showcase our skills.”
Jason, who has worked for the NHS for 30 years, is more at home producing nutritious but traditional food for his mainly elderly diners.
He said: “Roast dinners are always popular, and battered fish with mushy peas or casseroles. They tend to like the familiar favourites, but it’s always good to try something new.”
BCUHB head of facilities Paul Clarke said: “Hotelympia is one of the biggest events in the global catering industry, and taking part in the Hot Cookery content is a first for our organisation. I hope it will grow into having our own culinary arts team competing across all catering sectors.
“I am sure Jason and Zoltan will do well in the competition, which will give them and us a great opportunity to demonstrate their exceptional skills and the high standards we have within our catering teams.
“It is a testament to their passion and hard work that they are competing and we wish them the best of luck on the day.”
Each competing team has to produce four portions at the ExCel exhibition centre in London, two served to high-end restaurant standards, and two produced as if from a hospital serving trolley.
Jason said: “The biggest challenge is the timing. We have to do it all in one hour and the first time we practised it we took four-and-a-half hours!
“So it’s going to be difficult to get it all done in the right order and still to the high standard. Luckily Zoltan is brilliant at all that, whereas I’m learning as I go along.”
Having previously worked in several hotel restaurants, including The Imperial, Rose Tor and County hotels in Llandudno, since arriving from Hungary in 2005, Zoltan has a wide range of cooking experience.
He said: “I also cook a lot of different dishes every day for the adolescent unit. We don’t have many patients, but they are young people and we have a lot of eating disorders so we make a point of cooking whatever they would like to eat.
“So some days I cook eight or nine different dishes in one sitting.”
Zoltan, who lives with his partner in Colwyn Bay, specialises in making traditional Hungarian cakes.
He said: “I have always cooked and went to culinary school in Hungary but the situation there got worse and worse and I had to come to Britain for work.
“I didn’t speak any English when I arrived so I went to college to learn and now I think I might go back to try and learn Welsh out of respect for the country I now live in.
He added: “It has been good to remind myself of some of the skills involved as there are things you forget very quickly and I am excited to see how the competition goes.”
Jason and Zoltan put their competition dish to the test at Llandrillo College where catering lecturers gave the team their verdict and offered practical advice for the final event.
“They have more experience so can help us decide what vegetables and what potatoes to do,” added Zoltan.
Hospital Caterers Association chairman Phil Shelley said: “We are tremendously proud of the high standard and quality of this year’s competitors which seems to improve year on year.
“New recipes have a huge impact on hospital kitchens but many staff don’t have the time or resources to try out new things.
“This competition showcases recipes which, by the nature of the competition rules, will be compliant and ready to use within NHS kitchens nationwide.”
Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board is the largest health organisation in Wales, employing around 16,100 staff. It provides a full range of primary, community, mental health and acute hospital services for a population of around 676,000 people across North Wales as well as some parts of mid Wales, Cheshire and Shropshire.
It runs Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor, Ysbyty Glan Clwyd in Bodelwyddan and Wrexham Maelor Hospital as well as 18 other acute and community hospitals and a network of over 90 health centres, clinics, community health team bases and mental health units. The Health Board also coordinates the work of 115 GP practices and NHS services provided by North Wales dentists, opticians and pharmacies.
BCUHB’s new chief executive is Gary Doherty, currently Chief Executive of Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and previously Deputy Chief Executive of Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.