Towcester chef takes regional crown and will compete in the National School Chef of the Year 2021 final

School chef, Matthew Bennett, will go head to head with eight other regional winners in a fierce cook-off to win the coveted title of LACA School Chef of the Year 2021

By Megan Hillery
Friday, 10th September 2021, 4:07 pm

A chef from a Towcester school has been announced as a finalist, who will represent the whole of the East Midlands at the national School Chef of the Year 2021 awards.

School chef at Sponne School in Towcester, Matthew Bennett, will go head to head with eight other regional winners in a cook-off at the Birmingham Hilton Metropole NEC hotel on October 12 and 13 in a bid to win the coveted title of LACA School Chef of the Year 2021, a trophy and £1,000 in prize money.

Matthew, on his regional win, said: "It's a great recognition of the effort I put into my job and my role in furthering the children so it's nice to recognised for the work that I do. I've never been put into a competition like this before and have my abilities recognised."

School chef at Sponne School in Towcester, Matthew Bennett, will compete for the School Chef of the Year 2021 title in October.

Matthew has worked as a school chef at Sponne School for four years now with 25 years of experience as a chef under his belt working at golf clubs, hotels and restaurants. On July 6 earlier this year, he competed in a fierce cook-off against eight other contestants from across the East Midlands in the regional final of the competition at Melton College in Melton Mowbray and emerged victorious. He will now go on to compete in the national final.

Matthew said: "I was really shocked because it was a really fierce competition that day. I got into the kitchen, I put my head down, I knew exactly what I needed to get done and we had the opportunity to go out into the presentation where everyone was sitting and I was worried with the standard of mine compared to the others so it was just really good across the whole board. There are some good chefs in this competition so I was absolutely thrilled to get through to where I was, I really wasn't expecting that."

All participants in the LACA School Chef of the Year Competition have a maximum of £1.40 to spend and 90 minutes to prepare, cook and serve an imaginative two course meal suitable for serving to 11-year-old pupils in primary school year six or secondary school year seven.

With the inspiration for their ingredients, flavours and themes drawn from home and abroad, the contestants’ delicious main courses and desserts are are expected to seriously challenge the taste buds of the judges at the national final.

For the main course, Matthew intends to prepare a Tandoori Quorn Fillet with cauliflower couscous, bhaji bonbons and flatbread. His dessert will comprise a cherry pancake samosa with

coconut quenelles.

Explaining his choice dishes for the national cook-off, Matthew said: "I had to use quorn as my main ingredient. I find that that quorn reacts very well to strong flavours. Indian dishes for me are one of my favourites because it has a lot of versatile flavours, textures and aromas so I thought that an Indian theme would go really nicely with the main course.

"The challenge that I had was getting a dessert to go with the main course as well which is why I went with the pancakes, samosas to try and push the boundaries for the children's flavours."

In addition to the kudos of winning the prestigious title, trophy and cash prize, the victorious school chef will also walk away with a work experience trip and an invitation to a calendar of high profile catering industry engagements. The national second and third place winners will receive cash prizes of £500 and £300 respectively.

Eight national finalists have been announced so far with the remaining ninth finalist to be announced following the South East regional final scheduled for Thursday, September 16.

The eight 2021 regional champions crowned so far are:

• Matthew Bennett, Sponne School, Towcester, Northamptonshire (Impact Food Group)

• Rob Chambers, Hampton College, Peterborough (IFG Cucina)

• Raheem Morgan, Cooper Lane Primary School, Grove Park, London (Chartwells Lewisham)

• Karen Bevan, Stromness Primary School, Orkney (Stromness Primary School)

• Claire Malcolm, Mossfield Primary School, Swinton (Salford City Council)

• Rob Finch, Budworth Academy, Weymouth, Dorset (IFG Cucina)

• Lee Taylor, John Gulsom Primary School, Coventry, Warwickshire (Academy - part of Atalian Servest)

• Becky Crossley, York High School, York (North Yorkshire County Council)

Head of the School Chef of the Year 2021 judging panel is senior home economist at Quorn Foods, Kate Snow. Joining Kate on the panel at the national final, will be professional guest chef Stuart Brereton, education catering expert Sharon Armstrong and the reigning LACA School Chef of the Year 2020 Holly Charnock from Formby, Liverpool.

Commenting on the forthcoming 2021 national final, LACA national chair, Stephen Forster said: “Over the 20 years since this competition began, it has evolved to reflect both school food standards and food trends.

"Our partnership this year with Quorn reflects the current shift to reduce the amount of meat in our diet, which is also emerging as a major feature of school menus. As children and young people become more environment and healthier eating aware, they are demanding more meat-free choices on their school menus.

"Our link with Quorn has allowed our amazing school chefs to respond to this trend whilst showing off their culinary expertise. The National Finalists range of dishes exemplify their creativity, skills and commitment. It’s going to be an exciting National Final. Good luck to all competitors."

Foodservice director at Quorn Professionals, Phil Thornborrow, added: “Meat free is high on the agenda at the moment and we, at Quorn, have been trailblazing its development for over 40 years.

"The education sector in particular is embracing a more flexible approach to meat consumption, driven by rising concerns over childhood obesity and younger generations leading the fight against climate change. We want to inspire future generations to eat healthily and establish sustainable eating habits by educating them on how their food choices can be both good for their health and the planet.

"We have been thrilled to see the amazing creativity of school chefs using Quorn throughout this year’s competition and offer all the 2021 national finalists our best wishes for an exciting finale."

To find out more about the School Chef of the Year 2021 competition, visit