A WICKFORD couple have been named UK Young Seafood Chefs of the Year.

South Essex College students Amy Hawthorne and Michael Balding represented the college and beat competition from across the country in the competition, held at the Grimsby Institute University Centre.

Amy and Michael, who are studying for a City and Guilds professional cookery Level 3 diploma at the college’s site in Luker Road, Southend, were asked to create a three-course seafood meal for judges, including celebrated French chef Jean- Christophe Novelli.

Amy, 19, said: “I’m very pleased. It’s a great opportunity.

“It was very nerve-racking being judged by Jean- Christophe Novelli, but it was good to meet him in person.”

The team’s winning menu featured a starter of herbcrusted salmon and coley, an intermediate course of grilled, marinated herring and a main course of panfried sea bass.

Michael, 20, said: “Cooking seafood is a challenge.

“It pushes you more to your limits and you need good attention to detail.

“We won the trophy and medals but also four cook books and £500 each.”

The pair, who have been together as couple for threeand- a-half years, also won a £1,000 Thermomix mixercooker for the college.

Michael said: “You have to be very dedicated to be a student on this course. The hours can be unsociable, but luckily, we are in the same class.”

Chef Novelli, known for his appearances on television’s Hell’s Kitchen show, praised the cookery skills on display from all ten teams.

He said: “These people are stepping into something very important.

“They have been waiting for a long time for this.

“It is like a World Cup final or FA Cup final to them.

“I can see it in their eyes.

They take no prisoners. Every competition I do in this country, I am shocked at how seriously they take it.

“I like people who want to succeed. It is beautiful. I have always been competitive – that is why I recognise it.”