Michael takes the winning plate

Michael Thompson from East Belfast has impressed local and international chefs to be crowned the NI winner of Springboard’s FutureChef competition 2022.

The NI Final took place at Belfast Met’s Titanic Quarter campus, where the 15-year-old Campbell College pupil whipped up a plate of stuffed chicken breast and thigh, chicken mousseline, buttery mash and chicken jus followed by an apple tart tatin with Chantilly cream and sugar spirals to wow the judges.

Chef Geoff Baird from competition sponsor, Henderson Foodservice, Restauranteur and Chef Michael Deane and celebrity chef Jean-Christophe Novelli.

Michael will now progress to the grand final of the competition in London to take on the rest of the regional winners from Scotland, England and Wales. As he was presented with his award, he also received an invitation to experience a Michelin Star kitchen at Michael Deane’s EIPIC with Head Chef, Alex Greene.

Michael Thompson from Campbell College has been named Springboardâ€TMs FutureChef Northern Ireland winner. Michael is pictured with chefs and judges (from left) Jean Christophe Novelli, Geoff Baird from competition sponsor, Henderson Foodservice and Michael Deane.

Kristen Nugent from Dungannon took the runner up accolade with a main of Co. Tyrone roast chicken crown, hassleback potatoes, sprouting broccoli, roast tomatoes and basil pesto, followed by chocolate cake, caramelised banana, vanilla cream and salted toffee sauce for dessert.

Geoff Baird, Food Development Chef at Henderson Foodservice commented: “Michael has been consistently excellent throughout the whole competition but really created the best plate of food in the final, and impressed us all with his skill and consideration for the entire dish.”

Finalists had a budget of £10 to create one main meal, followed by dessert. They were marked on their overall presentation, creativity, taste and skills, as well as their attention to sourcing local ingredients, working towards zero waste and keeping to their budget.

Geoff continued; “Value and provenance are high consumer demands, so this is an essential lesson for our students to learn from the outset, and which they can continue into their career in hospitality, whether that be in the kitchen, front of house or within a managerial position.

Michael's winning main course: stuffed chicken breast and thigh, chicken mousseline, buttery mash and chicken jus

“It’s no secret that a busy kitchen can be a pressured environment. The finalists had 90 minutes to cook their main course and dessert, and they really taught us a lesson in keeping a cool head and not getting overwhelmed! It’s an essential skill to learn. I’ve been with our young chefs at every step of the competition and have been so impressed, it was fantastic to see them all cooking in their Henderson Foodservice chef whites today and I know Michael will give the other grand finalists an excellent competition in March.”

Michael and Kristen competed against three other cooks: Olivia Drain from Ballymena Academy, Ewan McCandless from Wallace High School and Faith Belshaw from Newtownhamilton High School who have all been mentored by some of the finest chefs to come from these shores.

David Gilmore, John Clark, Chris McGowan, James Devine and Colleen Lennon have championed and guided the young chefs alongside Chef Geoff who works with hundreds of restaurants and hospitality venues across Ireland in his role with Henderson Foodservice, the NI-based company which supplies to restaurants, cafes, schools and hospitals throughout the island.

Commenting on the NI winner, guest judge Michael Deane added; “What an enjoyable day in the kitchen. I have been so inspired by these young chefs who have shown talent, creativity and a really wide breadth of knowledge which will serve them so well for a career in hospitality in the future.

Michael's winning dessert: apple tart tatin with Chantilly cream and sugar spirals

“Michael is a very deserved winner from a tough competition, and we’re looking forward to giving him some real-world experience in the EIPIC kitchen very soon.”

Celebrity Chef Jean-Christophe Novelli added; “It has been a pleasure to meet the Northern Ireland finalists and to taste their exceptional cooking, they have shown talent beyond their young years. Springboard’s FutureChef competition has inspired them to be creative and learn even more culinary skill that they can take forward in their chosen careers, and I have been honoured to judge each dish and present Michael with his award. It was a privilege to be back in Belfast to judge the Northern Ireland finals, and I wish Michael the best of luck in London.”

The UK-wide final will now take place in London on 14 March with some of the UK’s top private, corporate and celebrity chefs judging the finalists from across the regions, joined by FutureChef 2020 winner, Jodie Cochrane.

Caitriona Lennox, Northern Ireland Manager at Springboard finished; “There has been some serious competition over the past six months and it’s hard to believe this journey has nearly come to an end. We’re incredibly proud of Michael who will represent Northern Ireland in London next month, and who we have no doubt will stand out after the culinary skill displayed today.

“There’s nowhere quite like Northern Ireland when it comes to the standard of produce and ingredients grown and farmed here, as well as our hospitality industry which is getting back on its feet after the most challenging couple of years. We are always so impressed with what our finalists bring to the competition, and can’t wait to see how Michael does at the grand final.

“I’d like to thank all of our competitors, chefs, mentors, judges and supporters – including our local sponsor Henderson Foodservice – for giving their time and expertise to FutureChef. We work hard to prepare young people and arm them with the life learning skills to help our hospitality industry thrive into the future, and we’ve no doubt that every young person we have met along the way will make their mark on the sector.”

Since the FutureChef competition began in 1999, almost 200,000 young people aged 12-16 have taken part and learned how to cook, developing their skills and knowledge with many going on to establish themselves within the industry.

Throughout this time, the competition has progressed and developed to form part of the overall FutureChef programme which offers industry links, online resources, module learning, careers advice and guidance, and a suite of teacher resources.