Regional pride at stake for Welsh chefs in Battle for the Dragon contest

Gareth Johns (right), Mid Wales team manager, receiving the dragon trophy from Culinary Association of Wales president Colin Gray after last year’s Battle for the Dragon.

A team of chefs representing North Wales has set its sights on winning the Battle for the Dragon culinary contest next week.


The North Wales chefs are looking forward to taking on the challenge of Mid and South Wales again at the Welsh International Culinary Championships from February 17-19 at Coleg Llandrillo, Rhos-on-Sea.


Each team will prepare a three course meal for 75 people, using mainly Welsh, seasonal ingredients. They have the option of using either Welsh Lamb or Welsh Beef in their main course.


As an additional challenge this year, each team must also prepare a number of cold dishes – two starters, two main dishes, two desserts and a restaurant platter for four – which will count towards the overall score.


The challenge is designed to prepare chefs for competing with the Culinary Team Wales which has to prepare a display of cold dishes when it competes in all the major competitions around the globe.


North Wales begins the contest on Tuesday, February 17 followed by Mid Wales on Wednesday and South Wales on Thursday. Food lovers are being given a rare chance to dine out with the best chefs from some of the top establishments in Wales with tickets for each Battle for the Dragon lunch costing £23 or £21 each when booking all three. Tickets are available from Sarah Williams, marketing officer at Grŵp Llandrillo Menai, who can be contacted on Tel: 01492 542 322.


North Wales are captained by David Kelman, executive head chef at Ellenborough Park Hotel, Cheltenham. His teammates are Sally Owen, a lecturer at Coleg Llandrillo, Danny Burke, owner and Arron Tye, demi chef de partie, from the Shared Olive, Hawarden, Hefin Roberts, head chef at  Ye Olde Bull’s Head Inn, Beaumaris and Leigh Marshall, head chef at the Castle Hotel, Conwy.


Their menu opens with a starter of scallop and salmon terrine, quinelle of crab and new potato,  butter poached prawn, shell fish sauce, crisp salmon skin and green asparagus. Main course isroast saddle of Welsh lamb wrapped in farce meat and air dried ham, slow roasted neck fillet, potato, honey glazed sweet bread, root vegetable, bulgar wheat, glazed turnips, young carrot and leek with a roast lamb jus. Dessert is dark chocolate ganache with a butternut squash, blood orange and vanilla centre iced white chocolate parfait, warm blood orange tartlet, orange sponge and coriander shoots.


“We have picked a strong team and want to bring the dragon trophy to North Wales this year,” said Mr Kelman. “We have chosen great Welsh Lamb for our main course and it’s a good menu, which I hope will give us the upper hand.”


Leading the Mid Wales team, defending champions, this year will be manager Gareth Johns, co-owner of the Wynnstay Hotel, Machynlleth and captain Neil Roberts, a former National Chef of Wales winner and co-owner of the Waggon and Horses, Newtown. The other team members are Steve Griffiths and Mike Ramsden, Cambrian Training Company, Jacob Sampson, Nags Head, Garthmyl, and Joe Barnes, Waggon and Horses.


The team will be cooking starter, which is their take on fish and chips, with tempura hake, celeriac chips, pea puree, bacon dust and home-made ketchup. Main course is ‘steak and ale’, comprising sirloin of aged Welsh Beef, beef marrow, parsley and skirt ‘bon-bon’, ale gravy, horseradish mash and vegetable surprise. Dessert is themed ‘back to the nursery’ and comprises elements of rhubarb, ‘custard’, ginger nuts, ice cream and prunes.


“We are the defending champions and I’m sure the North and South teams are still smarting from last year’s result, so we are expecting a strong challenge,” said Mr Johns. “We have gone for a menu that delivers on taste and, if we get it right on the day, we’ll be tough to beat.”


The South Wales team features four chefs from the Celtic Manor Resort, Newport, including executive head chef Michael Bates, who is the captain again this year. He is joined for workmates Karl Jones Hughes, Simon Crockford and Jonathan Pring, Kieran Harry, head chef at Chapel 1877, Cardiff and Nicolas Collins, development chef for the Catering Academy, Cardiff.

They will cook a starter of cod cheek, brassica, potted brown shrimp wonton, sweet corn, tomato caviar and coriander foam. Main course is Welsh Lamb loin, spiced vegetable and chickpea pudding, lamb bon bon, pickled anchovy and aubergine puree, salt bake beetroot, baby carrot, wild garlic gremolata orzo, lamb jus. Dessert is Caldey island chocolate marquise, iced white chocolate and orange parfait, milk fritter infused with rhubarb and ginger liquor, salted macadamia, cookie crumble and scorched ginger meringue.


“It’s going to be an exciting competition and we’re delighted to welcome two new chefs to the team in Kieran and Nicolas, who should bring a fresh outlook,” said Mr Bates. “The team is really looking forward to the challenge because they want to win.


“All three teams did amazingly well last year in winning gold medals and it should be another good competition. We’ve gone for dishes packed with flavour.”

Culinary Association of Wales president Colin Gray said: “I would like to use the Battle for the Dragon contest as a trial and selection process for team members to compete with Culinary Team Wales in the Culinary Olympics in 2016. Representing your country ought to be considered the ultimate honour by every Welsh chef.


“The championships provide the perfect stage for the best chefs in Wales to demonstrate their culinary skills.”


Organised by the Culinary Association of Wales, the Battle for the Dragon contest is one of the showpiece events at the Welsh International Culinary Championships, which are sponsored jointly by the Welsh Government and Hybu Cig Cymru/ Meat Promotion Wales.