Things hot up in Young Frier competition

 Experienced judges scrutinize every step of the preparation, cooking and presentation of Brett's Fish & Chips. 

Experienced judges scrutinize every step of the preparation, cooking and presentation of Brett's Fish & Chips. 

Brett has progressed to the semi-finals of the Drywite Young Fish Frier of the Year Award 2018! He is one of only 10 entrants from across the UK to make it this far in the competition.  Until now Brett has been assessed at a distance, via application forms and Skype interviews, but that all changed this week!  Brett traveled to Leeds for a Skills Day assessment at the National Federation of Fish Friers headquarters.  Here is how he got on in his own words (photographs courtesy of the National Federation of Fish Friers):

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I caught the train to Leeds the night before the skills day assessment and stayed in The Village North Hotel not far from the National Federation of Fish Frier's offices.  Next morning was an early start, up at 6:45am, ready to be in the door and ready to get started at the NFFF for 9am.

There were 4 other young frier entrants taking part in the assessments with me, and another 5 due to come the next day.  We were all separated and taken to the various tasks that we needed to complete.  I had a nervous wait around for an hour or so before my first assessment - but it did give me a chance to go over my notes again which I was grateful for!

 Brett is the first before the panel, Drywite MD Kelvin Lee, competition coordinator Nicky Lewis and industry veteran Michael Pili.

Brett is the first before the panel, Drywite MD Kelvin Lee, competition coordinator Nicky Lewis and industry veteran Michael Pili.

My first task of the day was to give a presentation entitled 'Fish & Chips and me' to a panel of judges.  It was extremely intimidating standing up and speaking in front of such an experienced panel - a definite X-factor moment!  I chose not to prepare any digital slides as I felt powerpoint presentations have been done to death.  Instead I took in a few props and a handful of que cards.  I wanted to tell the story of how I entered the profession, why I care about Fish and Chips and to explain what I was hoping to do in the industry in the future.  The presentation was the part of the day I was most nervous about doing.

 Bonnie Ritchie of the award winning Simpsons chippies and Seafish Events Manager Nikki Hawkins conduct a more personal interview.

Bonnie Ritchie of the award winning Simpsons chippies and Seafish Events Manager Nikki Hawkins conduct a more personal interview.

The next event for my day was an interview with Bonnie and Nikki.  The topics on discussion were pretty far reaching, from my daily routine at work to my future aspirations.  Many of the questions focused around social media and how to engage more people with the industry and the awards.  I talked about my new Twitter and Facebook accounts ( @BrettnChips ) and my plans to develop other social media streams over time.  I slowly started to relax a little during our conversation, and felt I was able to explain my ideas pretty well.

 2017 Drywite Young Fish Frier of the Year winner George Papadamou quizzes Brett on his Spud knowledge.

2017 Drywite Young Fish Frier of the Year winner George Papadamou quizzes Brett on his Spud knowledge.

After lunch I had to chip potatoes with last years competition winner, George.  We talked storage, starch, sugar content, testing, blade grading and delivery management before I got to work prepping the spuds.  I had to de-eye, rumble and chip the potatoes before using a Drywite solution to prepare them for the range.  

 Brett measures the consistency of his batter mixture under the watchful eye of National Federation of Fish Friers Vice President Andrew Crook.

Brett measures the consistency of his batter mixture under the watchful eye of National Federation of Fish Friers Vice President Andrew Crook.

I was fairly confident in my batter making, which was observed by Andrew Crook.  The water temperature, and mixture consistency are two really important factors when making batter.  Next I had to cut fish.  Normally at work we use a 5-8oz grading which needs the pin-bone removed and extra weight trimmed as goujons.  For the NFFF I had to cut a 16oz fish into multiple fillets at a suitable weight.  To be honest I found this quite tricky as its not a skill I've had to develop before, but it was a great learning experience!

 Brett is closely observed on the range by Craig Buckley, 2011 Young Fish Frier of the Year winner.

Brett is closely observed on the range by Craig Buckley, 2011 Young Fish Frier of the Year winner.

The fish I had cut, the batter I had mixed and the potatoes I had chipped were all brought to the range so I could fry them.  The range was a Mallinsons of Oldham model similar to the one we have at Blacks, so I felt comfortable frying.  The whole frying process was watched by Craig who is another past winner of the award.  I basket fried and blanched my chips, and let the batter on the fish fry to a light golden colour.

 Fish & Chips four times please!

Fish & Chips four times please!

The whole experience was very nerve wracking, but very positive.  It highlights just how much there is to learn and how many skills there are to develop to really do fish and chips well.  Of course as soon as I finished I started to think of all the things that I wish I'd said, little things I had forgotten to do, and other things I'd have done differently!  I'm sure the judges would have noticed them all!  But, I bet everyone who did the skills day feels the same way.  I just hope I've done enough to make it to the next round!

 The first 5 semi-finalists and judges pose together at the National Federation of Fish Friers offices in Leeds.

The first 5 semi-finalists and judges pose together at the National Federation of Fish Friers offices in Leeds.

There will now be several weeks of deliberations before the final five successful entrants make it through to the next stage.  The finalists will be mystery shopped, and have their skills assessed again in the shops they work in.  It feels like waiting for school exam results!