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Tralee Students Cook up a Storm at Chef Ireland Competition

13 February 2014
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Two catering and culinary skills students from National Learning Network in Tralee wowed the judges at the international Chef Ireland competition, which took place at the RDS Simmonscourt in Dublin last week. Linda O’Connor from Castleisland won a Gold Medal and was named Overall Class Winner in the Larder & Chicken Competition, topping the silver medal she won last year in the Larder Skills Open Class competition. Irina Pakina from Tralee won a Bronze Medal in the Industrial Catering Competition beaten only by a Chef from Chapter One Restaurant in Dublin. 

Irina had to create a 3 course lunch menu on a budget of €7.50.  She choose to make a Warm Winter Vegetable Soup for starter followed by Lamb Cutlets served with roasted vegetables and duchess potatoes for main, while for dessert she served up Apple Crumble with a Pecan Nut Coating served with lemon curd cream.  Irina’s dessert was commended as been a 4/5 star hotel standard by all judges.  Irina has previously won the national National Learning Network Bakery Challenge held in the IT Tralee 2013.

Linda O’Connor, who spends four days a week developing her culinary skills with National Learning Network at their centre in the Clash Industrial Estate, also attends IT Tralee one day a week on a partnership between the two training facilities. She impressed the judges with her knife skills filleting a whole plaice and presenting four different cuts, cutting chicken for sauté and preparing chicken chasseur. 

Chef Ireland is an international three-day culinary competition that rewards practical professional cookery and restaurant services. The competition which is co-ordinated by the Panel of Chefs of Ireland and run under the World Association of Cooks Societies is designed to showcase the creativity, skill and imagination of Ireland’s chefs.

Commenting on both students success, Tom Hardiman, catering and culinary skills instructor with National Learning Network in Tralee said, “We are so proud of Linda and Irina. They both worked so hard on creating their dishes, and really wowed the judges with their creativity and skill level. They are both extremely talented and have a passion for cooking. They both have fantastic careers ahead of them in the catering and hospitality industry.”

Speaking after the competition, Irina, said that she was over the moon to have won especially given the high standard of competition, “I really enjoyed the experience and got a great confidence boost from winning this medal. This is my second catering competition success since coming to National Learning Network having previously won the National Pool Catering Bakery Challenge Trophy, and I look forward to more competition success and achieving certification and a job in either cookery or baking.”

Commenting on her success for a second year in a row, Linda O’Connor said, “I’m absolutely delighted to have won gold this year. Last year I really exceeded my expectations when I won silver, and having that confidence of knowing that I could do it, motivated me to go for gold this year! Winning Overall Class Winner was the icing on the cake. 

 “Since coming to National Learning Network it has opened a world of opportunities to me, it has given me new skills which have enabled me to progress in my choice of career.  I would urge anyone thinking of changing careers or looking to further their education or training to contact National Learning Network to see what options are available to them.”

National Learning Network has two centres in Tralee – in Clash Industrial Estate and a satellite service in the Education Centre in Dromtacker – as well as a retail training outlet in Kerry General Hospital. National Learning Network provides training funded by KETB and the HSE for persons out of work through accident, illness, or disability.