By Mal Butler
A Shalfleet Primary School cook has reached the national final of the LACA School Chef of the Year competition for the second time in three years.
Wendy Lohse, 42, from Yarmouth, will join 10 other finalists next week (Oct 12-13) after finishing runner-up in the South East Regional Final.
The competition is the flagship event for school chefs to showcase their professional skills. It has been organised annually for over two decades by LACA, The School Food People.
Although she finished runner-up, she received one of two wildcards to qualify for next week’s final at the Birmingham Hilton Metropole.
Each contestant had 90 minutes to prepare four portions of a main course and a dessert suitable for serving to 11-year-olds in school.
As a main course, Wendy served up Yakatan Quorn Ponuchos, shredded quorn in filled tortillas, topped with onions and served with rice beans and salsa.
And for sweet, there was Aztec alligator pear mousse with spiced chocolate whipped avocado, accompanied by coconut cream fresh fruit and a mango puree.
American Wendy has been cooking for more than 20 years, graduating with honours from the San Francisco Culinary School, and she previously worked at the Ritz Carlton in the city.
She said: “I moved to the Island nearly six years ago because I had relatives here and wanted to slow down with my seven-year-old son, Kroy.
“I will have to cook the same dishes again for the final. I can’t change any of the ingredients but I can change things like the presentation after the judges’ comments. I made the final three years ago but wasn’t placed and this time I’m hoping to do better after getting some really good feedback from the judges.
“Although I didn’t win my regional heat, the judges took around 45 minutes to separate me from the eventual winner. I lost by such a slim margin.
“I’ve learned from the last time and I just have to refine my dishes using the same ingredients. My dishes are based on my American background.
“This year, it will be more daunting because the final is spread over [day] days. There are 11 of us in four heats, three heats of three and one heat of two. We will be live on stage in front of an audience and there will be a master of ceremonies interviewing us as we are cooking – it’s a bit like Masterchef.
“There will be a lot more interaction and we will be answering questions while we are cooking. After the four heats, the winner will be announced at the end of the second day.
“It’s going to be nerve-wracking but great fun at the same time.”