Novice chef and vegetable hater wins healthy eating competition

A former self-confessed hater of vegetables has come out on top at a healthy cookery competition in County Durham.

The ‘Durham Dinners’ competition pitted amateur chefs against one another following a six-week training programme.

Organised by County Durham Housing Group together with Wellbeing for Life, the course held local heats in Peterlee, Bishop Auckland and Belmont to select the contestants taking part in the final. After hours of careful cooking, Michelle Raine from the Bishop Auckland heat was triumphant, wowing the judges with her healthy take on spaghetti bolognaise, rounded off with a low-fat trifle.

“I only used a small amount of lean mince.” Michelle said. “But it was bulked out with lentils and vegetables. I used courgette, onions, parsnip, turnip and sweetcorn.”

After a tight judging process, and just a couple of points between all the contestants, Michelle took the top spot. The judges praised her healthy choice of ingredients in the ‘filling and pleasant’ meal and were surprised at how little meat was used. They also commented on how the trifle presented a different take on an old favourite.

Durham Dinners had a key focus on how to cook healthy, low cost meals, as well as giving people the opportunity to learn about food safety and hygiene. Everyone who completed the course earned a Level 2 qualification as well.

“Before the course I could cook a bit. But I hated vegetables and I’d never used stock cubes before. I’ve learned all sorts.

“I was shocked to win. I’ve cooked the dish before, but I’ve improved it this time. I didn’t use a recipe, I just made it from what we’ve been taught.” Michelle added.

Michelle narrowly pipped duo Wendy Wilkinson and Pauline Hardman, who won the Belmont stage, with their dish of roast veg with arrabbiata and pasta followed by carrot cake. Nathan Wheatley, from the Peterlee round, was squeezed into third place by a very narrow margin with his exquisitely prepared fish dish.

The Durham Dinners judging panel was made up of Durham County Council Portfolio Holder for Adult and Health Services, Lucy Hovvels, County Durham Housing Group Chief Executive, Bill Fullen, and Rod Brasington from north east based business and procurement consultancy Prosper, which provided funding to help make the project possible.

County Durham Housing Group Chief Executive, Bill Fullen, said: “I’ve been to restaurants where the standard of food was not as high as the meals that contestants created. It was really difficult to choose between the three. They were all really professionally presented. All of the judges were very impressed.

“Durham Dinners has been brilliant way of getting the healthy cooking, and eating, message across. I know that all of the contestants have taken so much away from the weekly sessions to put it into practice in their own homes and pass on their new knowledge to the rest of their families.”

Rod Brasington, chief executive of Prosper, said: “This initiative was a superb idea to teach people about cooking healthier. It’s also shown that the classes were great fun as many of the participants have walked away with real friendships as a result. It’s fantastic that a course like this offers both practical and social benefits wrapped up together.

“I had a brilliant day at the event and the food was tremendous!”

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