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05 Apr 2024

Winners of the Country Range Student Chef Challenge crowned at Salon Culinaire 2024

Winners of the Country Range Student Chef Challenge crowned at Salon Culinaire 2024

Paulina Litwin, Libby Thistleton and Cecille Youngs from West Suffolk College have been crowned the winners of the Country Range Student Chef Challenge 2024 following an enthralling finale at HRC at ExCeL London on 26 March.

The three young student chefs were competing against teams from Loughborough College, Cornwall College, New College Durham and Westminster Kingsway and astounded the judges with their creative, on-brief and flavour-driven menu.

Westminster Kingsway’s trio of April Jackson, Luca Delgado and Elliot Tyler clinched second place and the London-based college’s other team Esin Yusuf, Otylia Polczynska and Kamran Taylor took third place.

Under the watchful eyes of the esteemed judges and a buzzing live theatre audience, the students recreated their three-course, four-cover menu within 90 minutes. The theme for this year’s competition was Love Local and challenged the teams to discover and showcase the best of their local area.

International Salon Culinaire Awards

In addition to competing for the Country Range Student Chef Challenge 2023/2024 title, all the finalists were also graded by the International Salon Culinaire to international judging standards with Gold, Silver, Bronze and Merit certificates awarded. The full list of International Salon Culinaire awards was awarded as follows:

  • West Suffolk College – Gold Best in Class
  • Westminster Kingsway College – Gold
  • Westminster Kingsway College – Silver
  • Cornwall College – Silver
  • Loughborough College – Bronze
  • New College Durham – Bronze

The 2024 Country Range Student Chef Challenge Winning Menu


Beetroot four-way tart – a savoury tart case filled with Ellingham goat’s cheese, beetroot gel, roasted beetroot, pickled beetroot and fresh sliced beetroot.

Pan seared seabass with cauliflower puree, sweated leeks, Brancaster mussels in beurre blanc, pickled shimejis and potato rosti.


Choux bun with chocolate craquelin on chocolate sauce filled with marsala mascarpone cream, coffee caramel, topped with coffee and white chocolate ganache and toasted hazelnuts.

As well as claiming the prestigious Country Range Student Chef Challenge title, the trio from West Suffolk College also won a unique dining experience and opportunity to work at a Michelin starred restaurant, plus a professional knife.

Speaking after the victory, Cecille Youngs, said: “We’re honestly still in shock after the win and it really hasn’t sunk in yet. We’re just so happy. We didn’t really expect to win but we were delighted with the way we worked together and the dishes we put out. Just to know we showed off our technique, skill, coped in front of the judges and live audience, plus worked within the time limits, will give us a huge confidence boost moving forward.”

The additional time, hard work and commitment invested in the winning team by Lecturer Stuart Ascott, didn’t go unnoticed, as he received his own engraved Flint and Flame knife set. Winning Lecturer Stuart Ascott added:

“I’m so proud of the girls and overjoyed for them. They were so calm and collected in front of the judges and live audience and they worked brilliantly together as a team throughout. The dishes they plated up looked exceptional and the judges obviously agreed that they had great flavour as well.  They all have big aspirations and with the boost this will give them, they’re definitely three young chefs to keep a close eye on.”

This Year's Brief

The Country Range Student Chef Challenge has been a key part of developing culinary talent for over 25 years. Run in collaboration with the Craft Guild of Chefs, it provides competition-standard judging and vital feedback to the students throughout the process.

The challenge focuses on testing the essential core skills and techniques that culinary students are taught in college and is carefully designed in line with the NVQ syllabus to assess both classical and modern cooking techniques.

The focus for this year’s competition was “Love Local” and challenged teams to discover and showcase the best of their local area. With the world becoming more connected and global food trends often taking the headlines, it is easy to forget the wonders on our own doorsteps.

The food culture and traditions of a local area are heavily influenced and entwined by its history, landscape, people and weather. Local food also plays a significant role in how we connect with, cherish and support our community.

Lead Judge Chris Basten from the Craft Guild of Chefs added: “Once again, the standard in the Country Range Student Chef Challenge Grand Final was incredibly high so credit has to go to all of the talented students and also the lecturers who helped them prepare so professionally.

"The ‘Love Local’ theme was a lovely new element to the brief and you could see how much the students had invested in discovering the incredible ingredients on their own doorsteps. A huge congratulations to West Suffolk College who blew us all away with their teamwork skills, well-thought out menu, precision plating and, most importantly, terrific flavour.”

Graham Caldwell, Country Range Group Marketing Manager and Challenge Organiser, said: “It’s a day we always anticipate with excitement and this year’s Country Range Student Chef Challenge Grand Final definitely did not let us down. The skill, technique and creativity on show was truly remarkable and based on what we saw from the students, the future of the hospitality industry is in good hands.

"Congratulations to the champions from West Suffolk College and the teams from Westminster Kingsway on finishing runners up but on behalf of the whole of the Country Range Group, a massive well done to every team who competed.”

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