For those of you who think Isle of Wight Day is just about bunting, think again. This celebration of all things Island was conceived by Robin Courage during his tenure as High Sheriff in 2016 and was such a success last year that it is now an annual date in the calendar.
We, of course, have a particular interest in the Island’s food offering. We’ve been food blogging since the pre-TripAdvisor dark ages of the interwebs and in the intervening years we’ve seen the Isle of Wight’s eateries really step up to the plate, as it were. Not only at the consumer end but producers too have taken advantage of the fantastic climate and also the increased desire for local produce.
Now established as a feature of the Isle of Wight Day celebrations is the Gurt Cook Off – a Ready Steady Cook-style contest. Julie Jones-Evans, local business woman and councillor, is the powerhouse behind the cook off, working closely with co-organiser Seaview Hotel and the Isle of Wight College, which kindly hosted the competition. It’s an intense affair; four talented local chefs choose ingredients from a range of produce generously donated by Island suppliers. They then have an hour and a half to prepare a two-course meal, which is served up to judges. Which is where we come in – you didn’t think we were sweating in our pinnies in the kitchen, did you?
Our fellow judges were Mr Isle of Wight Day himself, Robin Courage, County Press reporter Megan Baynes, and Aspire Ryde‘s Heath Monaghan. You’d think it would be a walk in the park, judging delicious local dishes cooked to a competition standard. And certainly the food was a pleasure to eat. Marking the dishes was more intense process and a hush descended over the judges’ table as we scored the food on its Isle of Wight-ness, taste, presentation and originality.
Highlights for us were Seaview Hotel‘s Tom Bull’s pan-fried Phillips Fine Food sea bream risotto with its perfectly crispy seasoned skin and delicate presentation. Last year’s winner was Jo Boswell of the Garlic Farm; Cat was very taken with her roasted root vegetable tower with its chargrilled Living Larder cauliflower and Oil of Wight marinated Briddlesford feta cheese. The judges were all favourably impressed with Tom Bull’s Chale Farm rack of lamb with allotment vegetables.
The winner of the Gurt Cook Off 2017 was Bembridge Beach Hut‘s Emma Guy with her starter of Ventnor Bay crab ramekin, with Briddlesford Caerphilly and seasoned with allotment tarragon. Emma’s main course was Mediterranean sea bream Island-style, with Pinks lemon and rocket pesto infused mash and green olives.
The contestants did a cracking job; not only did they not have sight of the ingredients until the competition started, but their activities in the kitchen were live-streamed. No pressure!
We were delighted to be asked to judge the competition and are sure that the Gurt Cook Off will be back next year. Until then we’ll continue celebrate the best things about the Isle of Wight’s cuisine.