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The great Malmaison knockout

Cocktail, cooking and service battles as group's bright young things roll up for a showdown

Written by . Published on October 27th 2011.

The great Malmaison knockout

THEY call it service with a smile, but to have what it takes is no laughing matter. 

The nerves and the knives were jangling, the cocktail makers had been reduced to shakers when some of the the best young talent in the UK hospitality industry gathered at the Liverpool Malmaison this week. 

P1019772Keith Shearer and Aiden ByrneEighteen finalists, whittled down from hundreds of chefs, bartenders and waiters working across the venue's parent group, descended on Princes Dock, home of the only purpose built Malmaison in the country, for the biggest ever event of its kind: The Malmaison/Hotel du Vin Chef of the Year, Shake Off and Serve Off.

Until now, there have been smaller national events in their respective categories, but this was the first time they've gone and run the whole lot together over a day.

A bit like Crufts, except the only hair of the dog you would find was a bloody mary made with wasabi.

Every time I judge their competitions, I get
a big kick thinking the new generation is
brilliant' - Eric Charriaix

There to scrutinise the regional heat finalists of the year-long competition, were the beady eyed bigwig bosses of the group, such as soon-to-be-departed CEO Robert Cook and Scott Harper, the Liverpool Mal's first manager who is now its commercial ops director,operations Director Graham Bradford, People and Development Director Mike Williams,the Orwellian sounding Group Food and Beverage Controller Gerhard Steyn.

There were civilian judges too, such as Michelin-starred celebrity chef Aiden Byrne and his Church Green sidekick Jim King, international PR guru Nigel Massey, Liverpool Confidential's editor, Angie Sammons and later on the Echo's Mr Machray, plus  two people who it's really valuable  to know: cheese king Eric Charriaix and international whisky priest Johnny Walker (yes, really), the chain's wine and spirits director.

Scoreboards and strict marking criteria in hand, it was a long but fascinating day.

As a restaurant customer, it is easy to underestimate how much work lies behind really good service. You may have suspected it, but did you, for example, know that brownie points are given right across the trade for “upselling”?

Eg: Waiter: “I recommend the merlot. Would Madam like to make that a large glass?”

Madam: “Naturally I would!”

Or, less cynically, that it's considered a poor show if you fail to have 100 per cent, ready knowledge of how the beetroot in the chutney is cooked, or don't know how far away the Port of Lancaster is.

No-one was going to pull the wool over this lot's eyes, or that of the group's executive chef Keith Shearer. He and the Liverpool Mal's own kitchen staff, under Adam Townsley, turned out a fairly fautless three courses for the picky judges in the service finals.

Meanwhile, the deliberations began and the marks were totted up in earnest to arrive at two other crucial decisions: which young chef had delivered the best three courses in the cook off and who was the meister mixologist. 

Eric, who runs the famous La Cave a Fromage shop in west London and supplies the chain with mindblowing cheese told Confidential: “What a great day it was. Every time I judge their competitions, I get a big kick thinking the new generation is brilliant.”

So three winners, and six runners up in a fraught contest where the level of scrutiny was as impressive as the contestants' professionalism. 

People and Development Assistant James Higgins added: “As well as testing their abilities, yesterday also showcased the great array of talent we have across the group.

"Judging was made all the more pleasurable and difficult as a result of this, with the final decisions only being within a few points of each other which is a fantastic reflection of the quality of all the finalists who took part.” 


Chef of the Year 2011 Winners

Joint 1st Place - Carlos Andrews (Edinburgh Mal) and Alan Vass (Newcastle Malmaison)

3rd Place – Aaron Szymura (Belfast Mal)


Shake Off 2011 Winners

1st Place – Ben Manchester (Brighton Hotel Du Vin)

2nd Place – Stanley Smith (Cheltenham HDV)

3rd Place – P1019871
Ryan Rhodes (Aberdeen Mal)


Serve Off 2011 Winners

1st Place – Ivelina Atanasova (Oxford Mal)

2nd Place – Christine Vibrans (Liverpool Mal)

3rd Place – Jonathan White (Newcastle Mal) 

Each of the winners were presented with certificates commemorating the day and Magnum of champagne kindly donated by Veuve Clicquot

Verve Clicquot have also kindly donated a trip to Veuve Clicquot itself in the spring of next year to each of the 1st place winners.


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