“I always liked food and cooking, and I enjoyed Home Economics at school, but my interest really peaked when I entered my first ever competition back when I was in fourth year at school.”
Since then, seventeen-year-old Shannon McNeil has gone on to sail through her Level 1 and 2 City and Guilds Food and Beverage Service course, has started working larder and pastry service at a prestigious Edinburgh restaurant and is now in contention to be named Scotland’s Junior Chef of the Year.
Shannon’s foray into the world of Cookery and Hospitality really started when she entered a Future Chef competition while still a pupil at Gracemount High School. It was then that her talent was spotted by curriculum leader Steph Tanner – a judge on the day.
“That was when I was first encouraged to come to College to develop my cooking skills in a real working environment and, by doing so, many other opportunities have come my way – including my job – and I’ve realised the passion I have for the industry.
“I would say that I prefer to work in the kitchen, that’s where I want to end up – working somewhere I can express myself through the food I create, but I do also love the front of house element to my course as I get to have great interaction with our regular customers.”
Outside of her studies, Shannon is consolidating and adding to the skills she learns at the College’s EH15 training restaurant while working at Dine Edinburgh under the supervision of Michelin-starred head chef Stuart Muir. Shannon’s varied role means she runs both larder (preparation and plating of starters) and pastry service at the well-known city centre eatery.
“When I first started at Dine, I felt a bit lost because it was totally new to me and such an impressive place, but since I’ve been there I’ve learned so much which has helped me to develop my style of cooking. I now draw inspiration from others, pick things up from different chefs and hope to bring it all together in my dishes.”
Despite spending much of her time learning her trade at Dine or under the tutorage of College lecturers, Shannon has kept her competitive edge and is heading to Glasgow this week to compete for the title of Scotch Beef Young Chef of the Year at a competition being held at Scotland’s largest food, drink, hospitality and tourism show, ScotHot at the Scottish Exhibition Complex.
Shannon’s task is to create and complete a three-course menu plus one amuse bouche for four covers in three hours.
Shannon’s menu consists of: smoked haddock bon-bon stuffed with a quail’s egg with maple syrup-covered streaky bacon and smoked sea salt; salmon souffle with parsley and dill sponge, beetroot gel, parsley oil and pickled vegetables; medium-rare steak with a saffron and parmesan risotto, béarnaise sauce, white wine reduction and sautéed mushrooms; and apple and rum bavouris with a mixed nut crumb and an apple and mint sorbet.
“I’m quite nervous, but also really excited at the same time. It’s not just students in the competition, I’m up against apprentices from some high-profile hotels and restaurants across Scotland so the standard will be really high – but I’m looking forward to it and hoping that I can do all my dishes well.”