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):

skills tickets.jpg

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!

KFE school Brett in Frying Excellence

Brett Coulton of Black's Finest Fish & Chips, proudly sporting his certificate from the KFE School of Frying Excellence.

Brett Coulton of Black's Finest Fish & Chips, proudly sporting his certificate from the KFE School of Frying Excellence.

This year, for the first time ever, Black's chippy is proud to announce that we have an entrant into the Drywite Young Fish Frier of the Year awards!  Junior fryer and long term staff member Brett Coulton has entered the competition and been accepted through to the interview stage!  The competition is widely supported by the fish and chip industry and the young friers are frequently invited to industry events.  The first of these was a general invitation to attend a training day at the KFE School of Frying Excellence in Market Deeping near Peterborough.  KFE is a prominent name in range manufacture and fitting, and runs one of the most popular training programs in the industry.  Here is what Brett had to say about the experience:

Brett, the trainers and the other DYFFY entrants enjoy a meal at the Cosy Club in Stamford

Brett, the trainers and the other DYFFY entrants enjoy a meal at the Cosy Club in Stamford

I caught the train down to Peterborough from Lancaster on the day before the training session. KFE had laid on a meal for everyone at a local restaurant so we could network and get to know each other.  I had steak and chips as I thought I might be getting plenty of seafood the next day!

The KFE School of Frying Excellence

The KFE School of Frying Excellence

The training session started at 9am in the incredible School of Frying Excellence.  The space includes prep areas, a professional grill and two high efficiency frying ranges.  We were formally introduced to our award winning trainers; Mark Petrou, Nigel Hodgson, Callumn Richardson and Gary Rosser.  Gary talked to us about the wide range of fish that is commonly available to British Seafood restaurants and take-aways.  I am used to frying a broad selection of fish at Black's Chippy as part of our specials menu.  Whilst I was familiar was Cod, Haddock, Plaice, Hake and Pollock, I did learn a lot about other species such as Monk fish, Lobster and Muscles.  We were shown best practice methods for making batter, assessing the freshness of a fish and how to cut a fish to a suitable frying weight.

Demonstration of grilling technique.

Demonstration of grilling technique.

There were demonstrations on frying and grilling techniques by the instructors.  I was fascinated by cooking on the grill, which is a method used more by seafood restaurants than chip shops.  The essential lesson was that the best quality meal depended on only exposing the fish to 'clean' areas of the grill top.  Also care had to be taken not to press the flesh of the fish into the heat of the grill as this causes moisture and flavor to be lost during cooking.  The demonstrations on range frying were interesting as the KFE Kiremko and Perfecta ranges were new high efficiency models.  They use less gas than a traditional range and have built in fire suppression and oil filtration systems.

The green aprons team for the 'cook off'.

The green aprons team for the 'cook off'.

In the afternoon we were separated into blue and green teams for a cook off!  The first challenge was to prepare fish and chips on the range.  Our team produced crispy chips and a lightly battered Pollock.  The second challenge was to prepare a grilled fish with side salad, restaurant style.  We were praised for a sweet moist fish and a flavorsome salad.

Dishes prepared by the teams during the cook off!

Dishes prepared by the teams during the cook off!

The whole experience was brilliant, and very educational.  There is always something to learn and something new to try with fish and chips.  I've come away with some recipes for homemade fish cakes and homemade tartar sauce which I'm planning on making for the chippy in Halton.  The next stage of the interview process for the Drywite Young Fish Fryer of the Year Award is coming up next week.  I'm really hoping that I can show off some of my new knowledge in support of entry.  I'm very proud to have my KFE School of Frying Excellence certificate on display in the chippy.  Wish me luck in the competition and look out for my homemade dishes on the specials menu board!

Black's receives Good Chippy Award

We here at Black's Finest Fish & Chips in Halton, have received The Good Chippy Award as our latest accolade!  The chippy has been assessed on the quality of our food, service and reputation and reviews.  To get the award we "demonstrated exceptional levels of food quality, service and value compared to industry benchmarks."

You can view our awards listing and find more information at The Good Chippy Awards website.