Gabby Triumphs Against the Odds in Cooking Challenge

0 min read

15 May 2024

SERC Trainee Gabby Harrison (left), holding her winner's certificate, with chef Nathan Davies

Budding chef and SERC trainee Gabby Harrison, from Newtownards, has won the UNOX Combiguru Cooking Challenge in Italy – and the competition was even more of a pressure cooker than expected.   

Twenty-year-old Gabby is completing the Level 2 Traineeship in Professional Chef at SERC Bangor Campus. The student had successfully completed a series of 500 online challenges to gain a place in the final in Padua, Italy last Friday (10 May 2024) – this meant that Gabby, the only finalist from Northern Ireland, was up against other contestants from around the UK.  Curriculum Manager Clare Gillen accompanied Gabby, planning to travel the day before the competition, but the pair realised the heat was on when they faced a serious flight delay.  In the event, the young culinary star arrived in Italy after the other contestants had begun cooking.   

Clare Gillen relates what happened:   “The other nine candidates started the competition at 9.30am. We were driven straight from the airport after landing at 11.20 to the UNOX Headquarters – Gabby had a quick change into her uniform and she was briefed and started her competition at 12.30pm in the kitchen, while being questioned by one of the judges throughout, which was very intense!”  

Gabby was tasked with preparing two dishes - a main course and dessert – incorporating two specific ingredients revealed only at the briefing: Worcester sauce and dark cocoa powder.  Proving she really could stand the heat, Gabby produced a roast chicken thigh dish with tomato and Worcester sauce, served with courgette, and a chocolate mousse with hazelnut biscotti crumb and an olive oil and dark chocolate dressing. These were all prepared under the sharp eyes of Michelin Chef Nathan Davies and Zach Feve, UNOX’s own marketing chef. Both chefs are also ambassadors for The Burnt Chef project which also supported the competition.  

Reflecting on her win, and on the challenges of the competition, Gabby says:   

“The initial online quizzes were quite demanding, as you had to log on and complete one every day, and they got more and more difficult.  I was astonished to find I was SERC’s top scorer, and on my way to Italy! The travel itself was stressful as I honestly didn’t know if I would be allowed to participate if and when we arrived, but it was worth it. I am very grateful to my tutors at SERC, in particular Brian Magill at the college’s Bangor Campus, who mentored me for the cooking part of the competition.   All the finalists, and the tutors who had gone with us, got a trip to Venice on the Saturday, with a boat tour and a visit to a glass factory.  Of course, for our group the highlight was lunch at a Michelin-starred restaurant, Venissa!”  

Gabby was delighted to be awarded her prize, a set of professional knives, and SERC will take delivery of a new CombiGuru industrial oven in the near future for use in the training kitchen.