Three members of RAF Coningsby Catering Flight gained recognition and success at the Annual Royal Air Force Culinary Competition in May; the Competition was held over two days at RAF Halton Catering Training School.

The event is held each year to try and find the best possible Chefs and Caterers within the RAF to represent us at the Annual Combined Services Culinary Challenge held at Sandown Park. This is a highly prestigious event and is judged not only by Service judges but some of the best chefs and Front of House Managers in the country.

The annual RAF Competition is a highly fought over event with each Station vying for the right to represent the RAF, the event is spread over two days and becomes a very charged atmosphere with competitors trying their best to beat fellow team members and often close personal friends. RAF Coningsby entered into three categories at this year’s proceedings, the classes entered:

RAF Open Caterer of the Year – SAC Nicola Hargreaves RAF Junior Caterer of the Year

– SAC Christopher Hodkinson Senior Caterer Flambé

– SAC Lois Winders

The team was mentored by Cpl Michelle Thomas and managed by FS Bruno Brooks who took the team and moulded them, only 4 days prior to the competition, into a very professional and determined outfit. Practices were held and deliberations given, more practices ensued and with very valuable comments coming from the diners selected to taste the food on these occasions, we quickly achieved a level of competitiveness needed for us to be a very good effective competition team. Cpl Michelle Thomas must take the lion’s share of the credit for this.

The first to compete was SAC Nicola Hargreaves. Nicola had to set a table for 2 covers (table layout to include 2 napkin folds) and accompanying cutlery for a flambé dish of her choice with accompanying wine, finished off with a specialist liqueur coffee all to be completed within 40 minutes. Nicola chose a dish of medallions of fillet steak Diane served with dressed green salad with a wine of her choice. She greeted her diners explaining the dish she was going to prepare and presented her dish, along with her choice of wine and then proceeded to make her speciality coffee. This was the time she dreaded most, as she had problems getting it right (just ask her mentor) in the practices and was worrying about the final outcome. However, the coffee was a major success and looked picture perfect as she finished her competition with 3 minutes to spare. The judges deliberated hard, a decision that was to be one of the closest over the two days of competition; the final result for Nicola was the award of a Silver Medal Best in Class – a fantastic result.

The next to compete was SAC Lois Winders. She had to cook and serve a classical steak Diane flambé dish, lay her table and serve appropriate wine within a 30 minute time frame; Lois displayed a very mature attitude throughout and the dedication she showed earned laudatory comments from the judges. She produced an excellent meal and was awarded a Silver Medal.

SAC Christopher Hodkinson was last to compete and had to prepare and present a classical dish of Caesar salad with a bread roll and appropriate non-alcoholic drink of his choice. A descriptive menu card was to be displayed, he also had to show his folded napkin skills and set up a table setting for 2 diners. Christopher had 20 minutes to complete his class; he quickly got into his stride and produced a very tasty and well presented dish and along with his drink and napkin folds his efforts earned him a very creditable Silver Medal and importantly Best in Class. He also picked up the trophy for the Best Student at 3MCS during 2010/2011, which is an outstanding achievement.

The competition over and results awarded, it became evident that as a team we had excelled beyond all expectations. We achieved Best in Class in two of the hardest categories which, without doubt, shows the professionalism and high standards of the Catering Flight here at RAF Coningsby and also the plethora of talented individuals we have here on Unit. Not only were some of them first time competitors, but also very young candidates, who displayed all the attributes associated with excellence over this period and the dedication shown within the team helped in the very successful outcome of the competition.

Cpl Michelle Thomas deserves a massive mention as she has been an inspiring mentor and has spent many long days & nights of her own time in mentoring the team. Using her prior competition experience, professionalism and patience she has used these skills to excellent effect achieving outstanding results in preparing the three competitors.

As team manager it was a pleasure to take such a dedicated and driven team to this competition, as not only did they excel in every department, but the team spirit shown by this talented team of Caterers ensured that the Catering Flight here at RAF Coningsby are still held in such high regards not only by Coningsby personnel but by RAF Caterers in general. They achieved such exceptional achievements over the two days.

I would like to express my thanks to all the Catering staff at Coningsby for the help, enthusiasm, drive and determination shown by its members over this very busy period and this set of results is down to you all for putting up with the constant disruptions and often late working days. I thank you whole heartedly.

The team is currently practising to try to emulate this achievement when they represent us and the Royal Air Force at the Annual Combined Services Culinary Challenge to be held at Sandown Park 27 – 29 Sep 11.