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Top chefs compete in Maison François inaugural Croute-Of cfompetition.

On Thursday 18 November, François O’Neill and the team behind beloved St James's restaurant Maison François invited the industry’s brightest and best chefs to compete in the restaurant’s inaugural Croute-Off competition.

In a celebration of the season of Beaujolais Nouveau, the competition took place in Frank’s, the restaurant’s subterranean Bar a Vins, and was judged blind by industry stalwarts Fay Maschler, Loyd Grossman and Matthew Fort.

Each competitor arrived ahead of the judging panel, and displayed their take on the classic croute – whether it be meat, fish or vegetarian - displayed on the Frank’s bar top, to be visually judged, before plating one slice with one condiment of their choosing to be blind-tasted by the three judges (alongside cornichons for them to pick at should they wish).

Competing with their own take on the pastry-encased French appetiser, the list of top London chefs battling it out consisted of: Calum Franklin of Holborn Dining Room, Fergus Henderson of St John, Fred Smith of Flat Iron, Oisin Rogers of the Guinea Grill, Harneet Baweja of Gunpowder, Robin Gill of Darby’s, Margot Henderson and Alex Keys from Rochelle Canteen, Jackson Berg of Barletta at the Turner Contemporary, Jesse Dunford Wood of Parlour, Tom Cenci and Alex from 26 Grains, Pascal Weidman from Pompette, as well as the restaurant’s own head chef, Matthew Ryle.

Special mentions went to Calum Franklin for his festive croute, with a beautiful cranberry-coloured Father Christmas motif running through its cross-section, and Harneet Baweja and his team who added a little Gunpowder flair to his croute, serving a spiced guinea fowl creation with a curried condiment Maison Francois’ head chef Matthew Ryle presented a traditional house paté en çroute, with the competition’s name written on its side in bronzed pastry.

The top prize was awarded to The Guinea Grill team, made by Oisin Rogers and his Head Chef Ghiles Ousmail, who worked with pastry maestros Calum Franklin and Nokx Majozi. They always knew that their croûte wouldn’t win on looks, and so it was the filling that saw them win the trophy.

Ousmail used a classic recipe with foie gras, confit duck, duck hearts, pickled orange, orange jelly, marsala and the rich fat from Guinea Grill’s dry aged sirloin. The team went home with the grand prize of the Croute off Cup’, as well a case of Beaujolais and an entire Pâté en Croûte for Christmas.

In second place was the team from Pompette, with a faultless croute made with duck, pork and pistachio, served with a prune and pickled walnut ketchup. Its jelly was made with duck carcass, pigs’ trotters, red wine, vegetables and spices.

The final runner-up spot was taken by Robin Gill (Darby's, Bermondsey Larder, Sorella), who showcased a 'bacon and cabbage en çroute', which gained the judges’ approval for its inclusion of luxurious fois gras cured in Armagnac, prunes in Earl Grey and green peppercorns. His team left with a brace of rabbits and a mini bottle of Vieille Prune.

After the judging was complete, celebrations continued on, with the grand opening of the Beaujolais Nouveau cask, and a Bouchon Lyonnais feast of charcuterie, oysters and - of course – tastings of all the competition entries for the guests of the competition.