NCL students take on Dakota Grill chefs in live cooking challenge

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Students from New College Lanarkshire joined chefs from Dakota Grill restaurant for a heated live cooking challenge.

Thirteen students of Professional Cookery tested their skills under the watchful eye of Dakota Eurocentral’s head chef Jamie Cameron in the training kitchen of our Cumbernauld Campus.

The ‘Dakota v NCL Cook Off Challenge’ involved students and Dakota Grill chef de partie Shaun Hendry competing against the clock to replicate a signature dish from the iconic hotel’s restaurant.

NCL v Dakota challenge

The event, organised by chef lecturer Colin Wilson, further extends NCL’s partnership with Dakota Eurocentral. The partnership has led to work placements, job opportunities for current students as well as new graduates, while also allowing lecturers to keep up-to-date with current industry trends.

Students and staff, who operate the Taste restaurant at our Cumbernauld Campus and the MLOne restaurant at our Motherwell Campus, watched as Jamie demonstrated a dish of roasted salmon with spring salad and wild garlic Hollandaise sauce – which the competitors were then tasked with creating within one hour.

Head chef Jamie Cameron has worked in a number of leading restaurants, including the Bentley Restaurant and Bar in Sydney, Australia, Ondine in Edinburgh and the Gannet in Glasgow.

Jamie was assisted at the event by sous chef Scott Robertson, who is a former student of Professional Cookery at NCL.

Jamie Cameron at NCL's Cumbernauld Campus

After each competitor completed their dish, they were scored out of 35 across categories including working methods, safety, hygiene, taste, temperature and presentation.

The winner was Valeria Dimitriev, who studies City & Guilds Level 1 Professional Chef at our Cumbernauld Campus, who was awarded a six-course taster menu for two at Dakota Grill worth £160, plus a one-week work placement at Dakota Grill.

Valeria, who is originally from Moldova, combines her full-time study with being a mum to one-year-old twins and an eight-year-old son.

Valeria competed at the International Salon Culinaire in London in March, where she won a gold and silver award, and will compete in a regional heat for WorldSkills UK in Glasgow in June.

L-R Colin Wilson, Valeria Dimitriev, Jamie Cameron

She said: “I am very happy and proud, and I think my family will be very proud of me for winning this.

“I cook a lot at home and my hobby is baking and working with cakes. When I was pregnant, my husband told me that I had to apply to college.

“I decided that I would – and I’m very happy that I applied. I want to take all the opportunities that the College gives me.

“I like to spend time in the kitchen and I feel very confident in this territory – I’m enjoying what I am doing!”

Second-place went to Shaun Hendry of Dakota Grill, who was awarded a copy of ‘The Whole Fish Cookbook’ by Josh Niland and lunch for two in Taste.

In third place was Ellie Westwood, who studies NPA Professional Cookery and Bakery at NCL’s Motherwell Campus, who won lunch for two people in Taste.

Dakota Grill head chef Jamie Cameron said: “I was very pleasantly surprised by how good the fish cookery was – the fact that some students hadn’t really cooked fish before, the standard was exceptional.

“I wanted to make sure that the dish wasn’t too complex and that every student could get a version of it up, but I was so impressed by how every single student performed.

 L-R Paul Clark and Jamie Cameron

“Not only was Valeria’s one of the best tasting dishes, the way she operated, how clean she was, and her cooking of the fish was exceptional. I was blown away – she was a clear winner when it came to everything.

“I was really happy with the challenge, and hopefully everyone got something out of it – myself included.”

NCL chef lecturer Colin Wilson said: “The challenge was all about trying to push our students and give them some speed so they’re ready for industry.

“When our students are involved in a competition, they really turn that passion on – and that’s getting them ready for industry so that they have the right speed, the right technique, and they’re progressing in their careers.

“Our partnership with Dakota Eurocentral is really important in the current climate with the increasing demand for staff, so this has encouraged us to work even closer with industry and open the door to more employment opportunities for our students.”

Dakota v NCL presentation

The prizes were awarded by Matthew Smith, Chief Transformation Officer at NCL. He said: “I was delighted to be part of this experience for our students. I congratulate Valeria, Shaun and Ellie on their success and to all the other students for taking part. I know they got a lot out of it.

“I am grateful to Jamie for his time and to Colin for all the organisation and innovative thinking. On top of all that, the salmon looked delicious!”

Find out more about our range of courses in Hospitality and Professional Cookery by clicking the link below:

Hospitality and Professional Cookery

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