Congratulations to Abigail Smith, Commis Chef at Rockliffe Hall's Orangery restaurant, who has been named 'North East Young Chef of the Year' for 2024.

The 18-year-old was one of six talented finalists aged under 23 to compete for the accolade on 13th May at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Newcastle. Organised by NECTA (North East Culinary and Trade Association), the brief was to prepare, cook and present a 3-course menu themed around ‘green gastronomy’ to an expert team of judges. Finalists were asked to demonstrate knowledge of sustainability themes in their menus, as well as showing a clear awareness of seasonal produce and use ingredients sourced from the north east where possible.

Abigail, who started working in The Orangery at Rockliffe Hall two years ago as an apprentice, wowed the judges with her menu and was named as the overall winner on the day. She will now go on to complete a two-week internship at Michelin-starred Restaurant Pine in Northumberland as part of her prize.

Abigail, from Darlington, is currently working towards her level 3 in professional cookery at New College Durham and is expected to complete her qualification in June 2024.

Paul Nicholson, head chef of The Orangery at Rockliffe Hall, said: “Abigail is an incredibly passionate and talented young chef. She is brimming with enthusiasm for the industry and her menu for the young chef of the year competition was exceptionally executed. I’m so excited to see where Abigail’s culinary career develops in the future and am so proud of her achievements.”

When asked about her win, Abigail said: “The thing I enjoyed most about the day of the competition was being surrounded by driven people who shared the same passion and interest for food and cooking as myself. The competition has already opened so many doors for me including conversations and opportunities with incredibly skilled chefs who are at the top of their game in the industry.”

She continued: “Paul Nicholson, Head Chef of The Orangery at Rockliffe Hall, has taught me so much and I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor for the beginning of my career. With his guidance I know appreciate the importance and beauty of fresh, seasonal ingredients, clean plates and well-executed dishes.”

This is the third accolade Abigail has achieved in her early-culinary career, having achieved ‘Gold’ at the Craft Guild of Chefs Mayor Chefs Culinary Challenge 2023 and achieving ‘Silver’ at the Salon Culinaire Major Chefs Culinary Challenge 2024.

We are incredibly proud of Abigail and her achievements to date!

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