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NACC Care Chef of the Year 2021 is Aaron Watson

The National Association of Care Catering (NACC) has declared Aaron Watson of Primrose Bank Care Home, Poulton-le-Fylde, the NACC Care Chef of the Year 2021.

Watson was awarded the coveted title today (Thursday 7 October) in front of NACC members and delegates during the official opening of the NACC Training & Development Forum 2021 at the East Midlands Conference Centre, Nottingham.

Matt Knott of Fernhill House Majesticare, Worcester, and Daniel Kavanagh of Green Tree Court, Lexicon Healthcare, Exeter, took second and third places, respectively.
The closely fought national final took place on Wednesday 6 October at the new venue of Manor Farm Cookery School, Grantham.

In just 90 minutes, the talented finalists showcased their culinary skills, creativity and knowledge in the specialist field of care catering under the watchful eyes of the expert judges, who were looking for clear nutritional understanding of the foods being used and how they support the needs of their clientele, plus culinary flair through flavours, menu balance, execution, presentation, and hygiene best practice.

Watson ticked all the boxes and more, impressing the judges with his delicious menu of honey & ginger glazed pork fillet served with garlic and chilli pak choi, potato croquette, carrot purée and fresh apple followed by a dessert of sweet chilli roasted pineapple with coconut ice cream and spiced rum caramel sauce.

After intense deliberation, the judges unanimously agreed that Watson was the worthy winner, praising his “innovative, resident- and person-centred menu that expertly brought together delicious Asian flavours in a modern, exciting way, whilst showing a sound understanding of nutritional requirements.”

Watson said, “I’m really happy to have won. I’m also a little surprised – I thought the final went well for me, but the other chefs were so good I didn’t dare imagine winning! It was fantastic to see what the other finalists were doing and to learn from their expertise too. I’m just very pleased to be creating food that puts smiles on people’s faces.”

Daniel Kavanagh was also awarded Highly Commended Main for his pan-roasted chicken with wild mushroom and pastry lid, which stood out for the judges in both flavour and taste with “real wow and zing”, and David Whistler of The Cambridgeshire Care Home, Cambridge, scooped Highly Commended Dessert for his pear frangipane, which the judges described as “simple yet skilful, with outstanding nutritional balance and taste”.

Sue Cawthray, the NACC’s national chair, said, “Huge congratulations to Aaron Watson, our NACC Care Chef of the Year 2021. The national final gave us an incredibly exciting 90 minutes of competition.

After more than a year of experiencing life through a screen, it was fantastic to bring the competition back into the kitchen where it belongs. All the talented finalists put on an amazing performance and were both impressive and inspiring. The judges certainly had a difficult job in deciding the winner – and I’m glad that responsibility didn’t fall to me!

“Care chefs are highly-skilled individuals, whose knowledge and culinary flair makes a real difference to the wellbeing and quality of life of the older and vulnerable people they dedicate their talent to. This has been spotlighted during the challenges of the pandemic and that is why this fantastic competition is so important.

“It not only gives our chefs the opportunity to push boundaries, develop their skills and shine, it gives care catering a platform that demonstrates and celebrates the value and contribution of care chefs up and down the country.

“They go above and beyond every day to ensure their residents and clients always enjoy person-centred, nutritious and delicious food, whatever life throws at them, and that is certainly something to be proud of and to shout about.”

The NACC Care Chef of the Year competition is supported by the main sponsor Unilever Food Solutions and long-standing event sponsor the Worshipful Company of Cooks.

Alex Hall, Executive Chef at Unilever Food Solutions, said, “Unilever is proud to sponsor the NACC Care Chef of the Year competition. This competition provides a great opportunity for care chefs around the country to showcase their skills and raise the profile of care catering.

“It represents the challenges that chefs in the care sector face on a daily basis, from serving exceptional food to managing budgets. The way that all the competitors incorporated our products, such as Knorr, Hellmann’s and Carte D’Or, has inspired me personally as well.

“All the competitors, from the regional rounds through to the final, have shared some amazing dishes and stories about how they have engaged with their residents to refine and develop their dishes to deliver the very best for the competition.

“So, a big thank you to all and especially to Aaron Watson, whose winning dishes were so well received by all the judges. We cannot wait to work closely with you during the next 12 months to share more inspiring recipes for all to enjoy!”

Focusing on the importance of food, nutrition and positive mealtime experiences as part of quality care, entrants are challenged to create an appealing and delicious two-course menu (main and dessert) appropriate for people in a care setting.

The combined food cost for both courses should be no more than £2.25 per head based on three portions and it must be nutritionally balanced. The menu must also feature a product from Unilever Food Solutions’ sector-relevant portfolio.