Steyning apprentice wins HIT MasterChef national competition

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A Steyning apprentice chef was ‘absolutely thrilled’ to win a national cook-off competition.

Michael Di Bella, 24, was crowned winner of the 2016 HIT MasterChef Competition at Gloucester Academy on Wednesday (March 16).

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He said: “It was an extremely tough challenge, and I was up against some fierce competition, but I just tried to put everything I had learnt from my apprenticeship into practice.”

All six finalists were apprentices who had won regional heats before making it to the Grand Finals. As national winner of the competition, Michael, who is on an Advanced Professional Cookery Apprenticeship with The White Horse Smokehouse & Grill in Steyning, will now spend a week at Jason Atherton’s world-class, Michelin-starred restaurant Pollen Street Social, and will receive an annual membership with The Craft Guild of Chefs as well as a 1905 Dick Knives set and case.

He said: “I can’t wait to work at Pollen Street Social, it really is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Principal of the HIT Chef Academy, Paul Mannering said: “A huge congratulations is in order to all of our finalists who produced some truly outstanding dishes, demonstrating incredible skill and talent. It was an extremely difficult decision for myself and the other judges to decide on an overall winner but Michael’s menu really stood out thanks to its advanced flavour combinations.

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“It’s competitions such as this, which show just how important apprenticeships are for those looking to kick-start or further their career in Hospitality. It’s vital the Industry continues to support the future culinary stars of tomorrow and it makes me extremely proud to see how far the six apprentices in this year’s competition have come.”

The Grand Final of the MasterChef-style competition was held in celebration of National Apprenticeship Week to showcase the talented individuals who are at the forefront of the Catering Industry, and to raise awareness about the career opportunities apprenticeships can offer.

A spokesman said Michael quickly got to work planning his final menu of sea bass with salted bass branade, crab veloute and spinach purée; braised fennel trio of beef, pave of sirloin, beef liver and braised beef cheek with mushroom and cheek ravioli, celeriac purée and mushroom purée; and rhubarb and custard with rhubarb sorbet, rhubarb jelly, poached rhubarb, rhubarb meringue, rhubarb foam, crème anglais and custard cream, from a mystery larder. Michael’s menu impressed the expert panel of judges – which included 2015 MasterChef runner-up Tony Rodd, Andrew Green CEO of the Craft Guild of Chefs, Jamie Jones owner of Yalbury Cottage, and Thomas Leatherbarrow Patisserie Consultant – for its creativity, palate and presentation.

The competition was run by HIT Training – the UK’s leading provider of training and apprenticeships in the Hospitality Industry – in collaboration with its recently launched Chef Academy. The Academy is an innovative new training institute which aims to meet the current demand for highly skilled chefs by offering additional training for those already working towards a Professional Cookery qualification.

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