Mary has the recipe for success
WHEN you think of school dinners, lumpy custard and overcooked veg might come to mind.
But children at a Stockton school are treated to tasty meals cooked by the recently crowned Northeast School Chef of the Year.
Dinner lady Mary Barraclough, from Abbey Hill Academy on Ketton Road, cooked up a treat at the regional heat of the national competition held in Altrincham, Cheshire .
“I am on a high. I am really over the moon,” said Mary. “It was my third time in the competition and I just wanted to get through. I have been wanting to win really, really badly.”
The annual competition, organised by the caterers association LACA, saw Mary triumph over fellow North-east chef Joanne Stoddart from County Durham. The two contestants had to cook their chosen dishes against the clock and under the scrutiny of a panel of judges.
Mary said: “Everybody was really nervous. You have got to time everything right and you have 15 minutes to plate up. So really you have got one hour 15 minutes to do the cooking.
“As soon as they say stop, what a relief. It is really nerve-racking.”
The chefs had 90 minutes to prepare four portions of a main course and a dessert suitable for 11-year-olds - all with a tight budget of £1.30 per meal.
Mary puts her win down to her “spicy basil and tomato chicken” main course.
She said: “The chicken was really tasty.
“You had chilli, garlic and ginger coming through, and I think that is what got it for me.”
Her winning chicken dish was followed by a “coconut, orange and raspberry panna cotta tart”.
The 55-year-old said: “I am no spring chicken anymore. I just really wanted to achieve something.
“I love being in competitions like that even though it is nerve-racking.
“I am so happy I have won for Stockton and the kids at the school.”
She said she received a hero’s welcome from colleagues upon her return to the canteen: “They are absolutely over the moon for me because they know how much I wanted this.
“Everyone is so thrilled for me. My family and friends have really supported me.”
Mary will now go on to compete against nine other regional champions in the national final, to be held on March 2 in Stratford-upon-Avon.
“I have to do the same menu again - just better,” she said. “I want to be better than I was - get the pastry more crispy.
“I have just got to do my best.”
School chef Mary Barraclough