Published on: 10 November 2021

Two Chef’s at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust have been crowned National NHS Chef of the Year at the first ever NHS cooking competition.

After a gruelling six-day final round held at Warminster Cookery School, Sanish Thomas and Sinto Mulavarickal scooped first place in the final by wowing judges with a delicious four-course menu.

The competition launched for the first time ever in July with a round of regional heats held throughout England to showcase the skills of NHS chefs. It was a great opportunity to demonstrate the extent of the knowledge they must possess to meet the specific challenges of patient catering within the health service.

Following their win at the Regional heats in Newcastle in August, Sanish and Sinto competed against seven other teams over two weeks and were presented with a range of challenges specific to hospital catering. These included a breakfast challenge, following a set recipe, children’s menu options, plant-based meals, energy-dense, allergen menus, ethnic, cultural and lifestyle choices, sweet and savoury snacks, and light options menus. The second week of the competition moved into a knock-out phase which saw teams gradually eliminated until just three were left standing for the final day.

Talking about the competition and their win, Sanish said: “I couldn’t believe it when they announced we had won. I thought we were going to come second, maybe third, so we never expected to get the first prize. It was a tough competition and the pressure was really on, all the teams who competed were fantastic.”

He added: “It was a whole team effort from ELHT though, we were just the ones who cooked it. We had the whole team behind us who helped with the planning and organising of the ingredients and our manager Tim [Radcliffe] was there with us to support. I remember saying to him, ‘Tim, this duck breast is too small, can we get a 240gram breast?’ and he replied, ‘Don’t worry, I will get you a 320gram one instead!’”

Sinto was also overjoyed at the win. He said: “My wife and I are due to have a baby soon so this couldn’t have come at a better time. It was such a great experience to be a part of and I’m so happy that we won”.

The pair were supported by Tim Radcliffe, Facilities Manager at the Trust and Jijo Mathew, Food Safety and Quality Assurance Manager, who helped them create the winning menu and act as a mentors throughout the competition.

Talking after the competition Tim said:

“The atmosphere of the final was incredibly focussed but the excitement from all the teams and judges was great to see. The perception of hospital catering is that it’s the same old fair and that it’s not very good. What we’ve shown here is that you can do incredible things. I’ve been here to see the whole department grow and without the support and backing from the rest of the catering team this win wouldn’t have been possible, so this is a win for everyone here”.

The judging team of Nick Vadis, Craig Smith, Emma Brooke and Phil Shelley were joined on the final day by Bake Off celebrity, Prue Leith.

Talking to the finalists she said: “I have never been involved in judging a competition that has made me so emotional. The standard of food you have produced with the restrictions you face has been remarkable.

“I hope that this competition is the start of helping to make a career as a chef in the NHS as something that catering college students will aspire to in the future”.

Sanish echoed Prue’s comments when he spoke after the competition, saying: “When I first started as an NHS Chef my wife said to me that all I would be making would be porridge, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. We make everything fresh just like hotels and restaurants do. If you cook and then seal food it makes it very dry, so everything we produce and cook is sent out to patients fresh, nothing is reheated or frozen.”

“I’d say to anyone wanting to get into catering that the NHS is a great place to work, it’s a great opportunity and we create some amazing dishes here at ELHT”.

Both Sanish and Sinto will return to the competition next year as mentors, advising and guiding the next team of ELHT chefs to a hopeful similar success.

The win also comes alongside a host of other accolades for the catering team, including winners of Best British Food 2021 and Hospital Catering Service of the Year.

When asked what’s next for the ELHT Catering team, Tim said: “Who knows, maybe a Michelin star!”

The winning menu was a starter of vegetable samosas with tamarind chutney, followed by roulade of seabass with bouillabaisse, a main course of duck breast with apple and mushroom stuffing and duchess potato, braised red cabbage and orange sauce and a desert of sticky toffee pudding.

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