Student chef impresses Hairy Biker Si King and secures job with James Close at Rockliffe Hall's TERRA

Abigail Smith, 18, who won North East Young Chef of the Year
-Credit: (Image: Stan Seaton)

A young student has secured a job with a top North East chef after impressing industry experts such as Hairy Biker Si King with her cooking skills.

Abigail Smith, 18, competed in her first serious cooking competition in May and scooped the title of North East Young Chef of the Year, despite being the youngest entrant and only young woman in the competition. And now she has been offered the opportunity to work alongside two Michelin star chef James Close, the former chef patron of Raby Hunt.

The New College Durham student, from Darlington, caught the eye of many top regional chefs at the North East Culinary and Trade Awards (NECTA), which was held at Crowne Plaza Newcastle. But it was James Close who offered her a job and promotion to chef de partie at his new summer residency TERRA, which opened at Rockliffe Hall, near Darlington, this month.

She also earned a coveted spot in the semi-final of the national competition Young Chef of the Year, organised by the Craft Guild of Chefs.

Abigail, who previously worked as a commis chef at Rockliffe Hall, said: "It was a little bit intimidating. I was up against older chefs. I was both the youngest and only girl in the competition.

"Everything went fairly smoothly during the morning competition. The only issues were my equipment, which kept breaking on me, but somehow, I got on with it. When the result was announced I did get a bit emotional – relief as much as anything."

Abigail is delighted to get the new job with James Close and one day hopes to become a head chef and or even run her own restaurant.

Si King, who was one of the judges, said: "I loved being part of a great event. The standard was high, and the brief was locally sourced produce where possible. All the participant chefs and their teams did just that.

"There was some exceptional talent on show at the NECTA competition. But Abigail shone out above the competition, with her confidence, understanding of the task and her expertise in food preparation and cooking. We've got it all in the North East and I’m very proud of that. We just got to let the rest of the country know."

Lawrence Norman, 27, from Heaton, won North East Chef of the Year. He works as a chef de partie at The Broad Chare, in Newcastle, and has worked within Terry Laybourne’s 21 Hospitality since august last year.

Chris Jewitt, CEO of Food and Drink North East (FADNE), which organised the event, said: "The NECTA annual competition is becoming a key diary date for all young and aspiring chefs across our region. Many past winners of the accolade have gone on to build and develop fantastic careers in the food and hospitality sector and there is little doubt that Abigail will do the same and be a star of the future

"Each year the competition is becoming a bigger affair with senior chefs and restaurateurs keen to encourage and promote the enormous talent in kitchens around our region."