The way I work:
Zach Abbott

The 17-year-old winner of the Golden Apron competition to find Yorkshire’s best young chef says it’s all about local produce, being prepared and enjoying the adrenaline rush

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I think I work well under pressure – I’ve been told I do. I did my first competition when I was 12 and it took off from there. I started helping out in kitchens and then I got a part-time job as a pot wash when I was 14. I’d watch the chefs to see what they were doing and I’d help with prepping every now and then.

I had to juggle my GCSEs around my work with food. I never considered another career

I started to realise that I could put bits together and make them taste nice. In 2015 I entered the Golden Apron competition and reached the semi-final. I entered it the following year and reached the final stage. Last year I vowed that I would come back and win it, and I had to live up to what I said and make sure it happened. When I was announced as the winner of this year’s competition I was ecstatic. I was absolutely over the moon. I’d been trying for so long and it felt amazing to reach the point that I was at. As part of the prize I will be working with Asda and Cranswick to develop new dishes that will be on Asda’s shelves at Christmas.

In the final stage of the competition we had to cook one course for two people, using all Yorkshire produce. I used juniper-rolled Yorkshire venison and added fondant potatoes, kale, carrot puree, onion petals, parsnips, rhubarb and ginger with a port and cranberry sauce.

I love using local produce. You know where it’s come from, you know what it is like, and once you are familiar with it you can use it to the best of your ability. It’s important for me to use local, sustainable products in my cooking. If it’s not local you don’t know what it’s been through, but when it has been sourced locally you can watch it grow and you know what it’s going to be like.

In Yorkshire we have lots of game because of the moors – we also have rhubarb. I love inventing bits and seeing what matches, and I like expressing my flair in my cooking. I love being creative. I like a bit of trial and error because you know where you’ve gone wrong, you know what to change, and you learn what tastes nice with other products.

Yorkshire is a great place to be a chef. We have some great local produce and there are a lot of talented chefs working in the area. I take inspiration from some of the well-known Yorkshire chefs such as Steph Moon, James MacKenzie and Andrew Pearn. I also look through recipe books for ideas and tweak bits to make the dishes my own.

I used to be a fussy eater when I was younger. I never used to eat anything, but now I eat everything that I cook. I try new things all the time, even things I’ve never heard of before.

None of my family are chefs, but my parents both love cooking and they are very supportive of me. I still live at home. I’m not there all the time, but when I am I cook. My parents love helping me out and making sure that I stay on track.

I left school in 2015. I knew what I wanted to do when I left. I’ve never considered any other career. I’ve never wanted to do anything else. I had to juggle my GCSEs around my work with food. I knew that if I didn’t get the right GCSEs I would have to redo it all before I could go to college to study for a diploma in professional cookery, so I had to find a balance. I currently attend college four days a week, and I work on a Friday night, Saturday, Sunday and Monday as a chef at York’s Middlethorpe Hall.

Cooking can be quite stressful if you’ve got a lot on and you’re working in a big kitchen, or you don’t have everything you need. That’s why you need to be organised and make sure you have everything ready before service, so that you are not getting stressed. We do busy services where I work. We do 100 covers per service and we serve fine dining food, so we have to make sure that everything is perfect and more precise than you would in a back street café or restaurant.

I finish my course this month. My ultimate goal is to run my own restaurant but I know I have a long way to go before then. I want to work my way up in a few kitchens so I get to know the main bits. I’d also like to travel around the world and learn different cuisines so I can use what I’ve learned and put it into my own food.

I know that a lot of people don’t have time to cook food from scratch. It depends what your career is and whether you can find time. Cooking takes effort and you have to spend money on the ingredients that you need. Sometimes after a long day at work I can’t be bothered cooking, so I just get something out of the freezer and whack it in the oven. When you’re working around food all day it’s not that you’re bored of it – sometimes you just can’t be bothered with it. I’d advise people to keep at it and experiment with different ingredients and ideas and make them into their own and find out what works well. That’s the best way to build up a good knowledge.

The most exciting part of being a chef is the service – it’s the rush of getting loads of meals done at once. You get really busy trying to make sure all the food is perfect and you have to push yourself, but there’s a real buzz. I don’t tend to see the reaction from customers often, but when I do, if I see that they’re happy I know I’ve done my job right.

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