A Dungannon cook is to carry the torch for Northern Ireland as its only young chef to make it into the regional finals of Britain’s Best Young Chef.
James Devine, who has been fine-tuning his culinary skills at Ballygawley’s Black Cat restaurant, traded a place at law school for the kitchen in his early 20s.
But the 29-year-old, who will soon face 11 other hopefuls to compete for this year’s title and the Roux Scholarship, said he doesn’t regret a thing.
And rather than resting on his laurels as a chef in one of Tyrone’s top restaurants, he has set his sights on an apprenticeship at a 3* Michelin restaurant anywhere in the world - courtesy of the Rouxs.
But in order to get there he must first impress two Michelin chefs, including a member of the Roux family, to win one of four places at the regional final in London on March 12.
“I am very excited,” he told the Times. “When I’m not sleeping or working, I am practicing. I don’t really know if I can do any more than that - but the more you put into something like this, the more you get out.”
For his meal, which will be served to four (including Michel Roux Jnr and Gleneagles chef Andrew Fairlie), James said he plans to cook: “Roast crown of Guinea fowl with onion liver and bacon tortellini, buttered spinach, fondant potatoes and roasting juices.”
As for the dessert, which he will have to create from a mystery basket of ingredients provided on the day, he said he will just keep it simple.
“I’m very classical and hopefully geared towards the tastes that they would like,” he added.
As for the prize of a three-month fully paid placement at a 3* Michelin restaurant anywhere in the world - he said he can’t bring himself to think about that just yet.
The Roux Scholarship
Speaking to the Times about his family’s prestigious scholarship, which has been giving young chefs a chance to work in some of the world’s finest kitchens since 1984, Alain Roux said he will be looking for full-bodied flavours and great sauces from entrants.
“I think sauces do lift a dish, and I can’t wait,” he said, “some of the sauces are quite interesting.”
On the subject of Irish chefs, he added: “We get the odd Irish chef coming in and training in my team here - good news really. They are full of energy, lovely people and they just love what they do.”
When asked what they bring to the table, he said “sunshine”.
Speaking about the scholarship, he added: “The best thing is the opportunity of sharing your knowledge, your passion and trying to give advice and open doors to young people. Good luck for James, that’s what I wish him.”