Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam!

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Spam on the menu at Ladybower

ON the last leg (and my last legs) of a five and a half mile hike I was dying for refreshment. It was getting too late for a pub lunch but there ahead in the Birchin Clough layby was the Ladybower Café.

And when I read the menu it reminded me of Monty Python. For sandwiches I could have Spam; Spam and Egg; Spam Egg  and Cheese Slice; Spam Bacon and Sausage; Spam and Sausage; and Spam and Bacon.

But I had bacon and egg instead!

I hadn’t really noticed the cafe, more a mobile catering van but with tables and chairs in good weather, before although I must have driven past many times on the A57 in the last 15 years it has been there, according to Julie, who served me.

To be honest, I was a little exhausted or would have asked a little more about this splendid throwback overlooking the Ladybower Reservoir. Judging by its Facebook page it has a host of admirers and regulars.

And I got talking to a whisky salesman whom, he said, had been made homeless and was living out of his car. I saw later that he had posted grateful thanks to Julie, who runs it with a bloke called Geoff, for giving him a free lunch.

The Ladybower Cafe (not to be confused with the Ladybower Inn up the road) is apparently very popular with bikers. Among them are Si and Dave, aka the Hairy Bikers, who dropped in for Spam and egg while filming for their TV series.

Sandwiches come in a breadcake, only white, because there is no call for brown or wholemeal, according to Julie.

My sandwich was great and she didn’t demur when I didn’t want tea because I had some left in my flask.

Next time, though, I’ll have Spam.

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Tonco: so trendy but tasty

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Quincewell tart – lovely pastry

IF TONCO, a bijou little eaterie tucked away shyly behind the stone lions in embryonic Dyson Place, Sheffield, sounds vaguely Mediterranean (Greek or Italian, perhaps?) you might be surprised to find that it takes its name from a long-forgotten sarsaparilla drink brewed in Barnsley.

Once you have managed to open the stiff front door, which obviously spent a previous life as muscle improving gym equipment, you find an industrial looking restaurant. Bare concrete walls, old school chairs, tables made from bicycle frames and a bar-cum-open kitchen give a deliberately unfinished look.

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Celeriac, confit yolk, pangritata

Tonco is the first tenant of Martin Flowers’ retail and apartments redevelopment of an old garage, chapel and wasteland behind Sharrowvale Road.

The exact location has fooled some but just tootle up the alleyway between the wet fish shop and the Mediterranean restaurant. This makes it off-off Ecclesall Road.

The place is run by rhyming couple Joe and Flo (Shrewsbury and Russell) who specialise in the currently fashionable small plates (think Anglo tapas) with a very eclectic menu. Someone asked me what the theme was and I said Very Modern Modern British. Quirky might be a better description. Which started by pinching the name from an old pop bottle.

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Tonco – Hidden away in the corner

Quirkiness has its charms but can irritate if it doesn’t work. Flo’s cooking, which juxtaposes unexpected flavours and ingredients, makes sure it does.

Slivers of celeriac are topped with a confit egg and run through with crispy pangritata, the Italian ‘poor man’s parmesan’ of fried garlicky breadcrumbs flavoured with thyme (£7). It doesn’t look much but the runny yolk binds vegetable and crumbs together for comfort food appeal.

The fashion for fermenting is seen in the fermented kohlrabi, another root, combined with wild sea bass, lightly cured, or ceviched, in the fermenting liquid (£7). It leaves a satisfying tang in the mouth and quite a bit of heat from a fiery paprika sauce.

We could have had oh-so-trendy cavolo nero salad with hemp seed and sesame or bigger plates of braised beef shoulder with homemade orecchiette pasta but, instead, settled for a delicious and generous plate of Italian meats: coppa, lomo and finocchiona (£7).

On my next visit I will get my teeth into bigger dishes such as the beef or stone bass with burnt leek, mussels and elderflower emulsion but instead shared a dessert from the list unforgivably headed Pud-Pud. There was nothing twee, though, about the tart, a quince take on Bakewell with spectacular pastrywork.

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Sea bass ceviche, fermented kohlrabi

The baking is first class here: try the soft, moist, spongy bread which almost converted me to sourdough with a vividly grassy Greek oil – just pressed by a friend of Joe’s, naturally.

They don’t have an espresso machine so you have to settle for cafetiere, which comes in a homely mug.

Tonco may be achingly trendy but, with the dishes we had at least, it works. What I liked was the excellence of the ingredients and the care with which they are used. So be like Joe: go with Flo.

Website: http://www.tonco.co.uk

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Joe and Flo at Tonco. Picture by @zoegenders

No pizzas but you can have a Margherita

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Terrific pasta at Grazie

ALMOST alone among Sheffield’s Italian restaurants you can’t get a pizza at the latest to open, Grazie on Leopold Street. Not even a pizza Margherita.

But there is a Margherita. She makes the pasta.

Traditionally back home the best pasta is made by ageing Nonnas with bulging biceps who have been kneading and folding and rolling all their lives. The Margherita who makes the three types of pasta here is all of 21 and, not having seen her, I can’t speak for her biceps. But she has brought her mum with her! It’s glorious.

This is the lightest, springiest, toothsome pasta I’ve eaten for some time. I’m having main course orecchiette, ear-shaped pasta made with fine semolina (as is the shell-shaped cavatelli) in my Amore Pugliese (£9.25). It’s tossed with the stems of cimi di rapa, wild broccoli, anchovies, chilli, garlic and breadcrumbs for extra texture.

You could almost imagine being, if you ignore the double-deckers rolling by the restaurant’s picture windows, hundreds of miles away in a ristorante fanned by Mediterranean breezes.

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Sausage and mash, Italian style

Grazie, with a mostly Puglian regional menu, is owned and run by Vito Vernia, from that province via Piccolino in ,where he was general manager. Margherita is also from Puglia so she knows exactly the sort of pasta needed.

Grazie has already been widely praised, not least by my pal Craig Harris, whose review you can read here . I’d just like to add a few comments.

I don’t just like to leave a restaurant with, hopefully, a happy tummy full of good food, but an idea or two I can try at home when I’m feeling particularly cheffy. And, my word, there were quite a few at Grazie.

Craig and his wife Marie have already made one visit and he’s back, this time with us. And I’m eyeing up his main course sausage and mash. But it’s not as we know it.

There are two butterflied Italian sausages, as juicy and spicy as you could want, which have been griddled so there are perfect parallel lines. Instead of mash there’s a pool of broad bean puree and a garnish of caramelised red onions.

Fave e salsicca (sounds better already, doesn’t it?) is very tasty and I think I’ll give it a go, although I want to replace the broad beans with mashed potatoes. And I can’t help thinking that £14 is a bit steep for a couple of bangers, no matter how good.

There are lots of interesting things here. The semolina-rich Altamuran bread is excellent, particularly as a bruschetta tipica (£6.50). It’s smeared with some of that broad bean puree and topped with more cimi di rapa, the leaves this time, crispy onions, chilli and extra virgin olive oil. I love the Italian way of using two different parts of the broccoli. You won’t find it over here but try tenderstem or purple sprouting.

Graizie is in the premises of what used to be the Prosecco Lounge and reminds me a little of the early days of Gusto, then round the corner in Church Street, with its burst of new (to Sheffield) ideas and lively cooking.

Vito is married to Elena and you might see her and their new young baby Joseph popping into the restaurant during the day.

Grazie does coffee and cakes until 12 then the full menu operates through the afternoon and evening. There’s plenty more on the menu for us to explore – and we will.

1-3 Leopold Street, SheffieldS1 2GY. Web: http://www.graziesheffield.co.uk

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Vito Severa (wife and bambino in background)

 

Putting the shine back on Silversmiths

 

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Pork belly with apple

LAST time I was at Silversmiths restaurant on Arundel Street with a camera I was lurking on the corner trying to snap TV superchef Gordon Ramsay for The Star.

I found him in the street making a phone call during a break from filming his Kitchen Nightmares restaurant rescue show and got my front page picture – it was a bit blurry – but he caught me. “Did you write that piece in the paper?” he quizzed. I had to admit I had indeed wrote that he was a “foul-mouthed chef.”

He paused and walked silently back into the building. Interview over! When the series  was screened in 2009 there were 310 F-words in one episode alone and Silversmiths has become known all over the world.

Ten years later I’m back, this time legitimately, to see whether it will be third time lucky for this Sheffield restaurant since then owner Justin Rowntree, who had called in Ramsay to save his struggling enterprise, sold a transformed business on in 2017.

The last two reincarnations of the place have failed and doubtless there were a few more F-words when it suddenly closed in August, leaving diners in the lurch. So Silversmiths has a reputation to rebuild.

And Justin is back but in a different role. He’s been called in by new owners Rick Bailey and Matt Ray as consultant to publicise and advise on the relaunch. In a sense he’s doing a bit of a Ramsay “but without the swearing,” he laughed, inviting me to do a review as a guest diner.

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Silversmiths’ interior

They’ve pinned their hopes on tousle-haired head chef Ashley Bagshaw, just 24, who has already made a name for himself at the two AA rosette Chequers pub at Froggat Edge, to put the shine back on. I’ve already enjoyed his cooking at the much acclaimed Airoma pop-up venue with best mate Luke Hanson.

He’s opened with two menus: Simply British, with old favourites like fish and chips, a nod to Ramsay who instituted a pie night (here fish pie and a home-smoked brisket), burger, lamb rump and a steak; and a shorter, more expensive and adventurous a la carte featuring a mustard panna cotta starter, main course grouse with hazelnuts and a trio of desserts separate to the British menu.

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Blue cheese cigar

The restaurant, which seats around 60, seems wider than I recall (there is a separate dining room upstairs). That’s all to do with clever lighting, I’m told, and a row of mirrors helps. The familiar banquette which runs the length of the wall has been retained and so has the stage, a relic of its days as the One Eleven Club and Justin’s Runaway Girl (Ramsay changed the name).

Ashley cooks brightly. A blue cheese ‘cigar’, encased in a crisp pastry sheath (£7) which had absorbed the cheesy flavours, along  with melon balls and pine nuts, was an elegant starter. I had hoped for the panna cotta, which proved unavailable, so went for a very precisely steamed piece of cod enlivened by a hot but not blistering harissa sauce (£8)

My main course was pork belly, perhaps because I’d read that day it had been declared one of the world’s top ten nutritious foods, in at number eight between Swiss chard and beet greens.

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Sticky toffee pudding

Belly pork can be a dream of tenderness and succulence and this didn’t let me down, although my initial disappointment at the absence of a crisp piece of crackling was tempered by seeing Ashley had shattered the skin into crumbs and scattered them on top. The porkiness was continued through a quenelle of black pudding mash (£16). There was a nice piece of roast apple on top.

Chicken is so ubiquitous today that it often makes for a very dull meal. Here a supreme (£16) was full of cluck with plenty of flavour, alongside a rosti made up of a medley of root vegetables rather than just potato, and creamed leeks.

The long bar dominates the room and tables now occupy the stage which makes this a warm, friendly feeling place. Good music on the sound system, too.

We were greeted by general manager Paul Handley but most of the time we were served ably and enthusiastically by waiter and trainee sommelier Nathan.

We finished up with a chocolate suet pudding and a pretty nifty sticky toffee pudding.

The new Silversmiths is a bright, friendly place with a more than decent menu which should please those whose tastes are conservative along with others who want something a little bit different. Let’s wish it well.

Martin Dawes was a guest of the restaurant in writing this review.

*Silversmiths is at 111 Arundel Street, Sheffield S1 2NT. Web: http://www.silversmithsrestaurant.co.uk

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Head chef Ashley Bagshaw

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flying high: Silver service at the Silver Plate

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Some rather good pork belly

I SHALL probably never fly first class and get served dinner at 50,000 feet with silver service but at least young Chloe is giving me a taste of it at zero feet.

We are lunching at Sheffield College’s admirable Silver Plate training restaurant on the main Granville Road campus and the vegetables – broccoli and green beans – are being served silver service: that is directly from a dish via fork and spoon on to your plate by the waitress.

I smile wryly. Didn’t this sort of thing go out with the ark, along with synchronised cloche lifting and serving gloves?

The reason, says instructor Shelley Kirk is that Chloe and co are on the Cabin Crew Course and need to know this sort of thing. Well, chocks away as waitresses unfold and place our (paper) napkins in our laps. At 50,000 feet it would be linen. But you might not get Sheffield cutlery as you do here!

I haven’t eaten at the college, one of the best for catering in the country, for years. Lunches are a steal: £11 for two courses, £13 for three, while you have to book the evening wine and dines months in advance. There is a waiting list.

It’s ideal for silver surfers wanting a taste of middle of the road dining they might not be able to afford regularly, or those who just want to support the next generation.

Things don’t start well: we are all squashed like sardines in a lobby with the size and atmosphere of a dentist’s waiting room before the doors open. Silver Plate’s predecessor, Sparks, had a decent lounge where students could practice their drinks ordering skills.

It’s a highly enjoyable meal, cooked for us by eight second year level 2 professional cookery students under the supervision of lecturer Andy Gabbitas, formerly chef-proprietor of the Wortley Arms.

The menu is short with just three choices at each stage but first some really good breads (focaccia, black pudding and herbs) and a sip of better than expected pinot grigio.

For starters there is mushroom soup, goats cheese parfait and red mullet on shaved fennel, which I have. My pan-fried fish has only just been cooked – it is on point, as they say – with the flesh a little too translucent but still acceptable. My wife approves her parfait as ‘not too goaty.’

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Instructor Andy Gabbitas

For mains there is roast belly pork with a parsnip mash, pan-fried salmon and a butternut squash and spinach tart.

My pork is a treat. The meat is soft and sweet, cutting almost like butter. The skin, detached, is crisp and crunchy. It’s on a bed of mash, possibly slightly over-nutmegged, with some partially dehydrated apple rings for garnish.

Here come the vegetables. Of course students must learn but silver service does muck up the kitchen’s presentation skills, which are good. I adjust my napkin on my lap. Experience has taught me stray vegetables served this way can end up there but Chloe’s trajectory is true.

That broccoli came with a hollandaise sauce, by the way, and like lecturer Andy, I agree it was very creditably done.

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Steamed pudding and custard

My dessert, a simple steamed, not messed about with syrup pudding with a thin custard, rounds off an  excellent meal. My wife’s chocolate torte is a belter. “Didn’t have to touch the sable pastry,” says Andy later.

A final accolade: the coffee is first class with a good crema.

You’d have easily been happy to pay £22 for this at a little side street bistro and it’s not hard to see why the college and the restaurant keeps earning plaudits. It only just missed out being in the AA’s top three training restaurants this year. Don’t miss out on a visit.

*Lunches run Tuesday-Friday in term time. To book call 0114 260 2060 or e-mail thesilverplate@sheffcol.ac.uk

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The Silver Plate

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now for something completely different

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Ashley (left) and Luke in cheffy mode at Airoma

LUKE Hanson flashes me a wide grin. “We’re just two big kids messing about. We enjoy having a laugh.”

By ‘we’ he means himself and best mate Ashley Bagshaw, soon to re-open Silversmiths as head chef, who run pop-up restaurant Airoma, named after a dish that has not yet been set before the public palate, in the Loft Bar at Kelham Island, Sheffield.

It’s their third outing and Luke, from the British Oak, Mosborough has e-mailed offering me a free ticket for favour of review, and a discount for whoever tags along. I bring a mate, ex-pub landlord, Masterchef contestant (floored by a fish) and food blogger Craig Harris, so the lads were getting two bloggers for the price of almost one.

When we get over the shock of being charged £8 for a pint and a half of Kelham Island’s Easy Rider (the brewery is bang next door so those beer miles which upped the price must have been via Newcastle) we settle at one of three tables. There are 30 guests.

Tickets are £45 so I joke that we could have done Joro for lunch at that price. What we are about to get turns out to be thoroughly entertaining.

It’s a sort of tasting menu in a series of small plates, some more serious than others, featuring world classics. We begin close to home with Bacon Butty, a teeny-weeny yeasty white loaf with a brown sauce butter and crunchy little bits of salty bacon, the sort of thing you might get as an amuse in a posh restaurant.

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Crocket or croquette – it tasted great

We move on (when the beer runs out we stick to water) to what is to my mind the night’s star dish. Instead of a menu there’s a screen and flashed up is “Bubble & Tweet: roast chicken dinner crocket, crispy cabbage.”

For crocket read croquette, chefs never could spell. I love it. Encased within the breadcrumbed exterior is a complete mini meal: roast chicken, vegetables and stuffing, all precisely flavoured. It sits on the now fashionable crispy cabbage and, carefully balanced on the croquette, is a wafer-thin crispy shard of chicken skin, which everybody knows is the best thing about a Sunday roast.

Not sure how they did the skin (was it dehydrated first?) but it was impressive.

Next we go all oriental with hot and sour flavours from a langoustine gyoza (Japanese dumpling) coupled with a Thai marshmallow, except that something’s missing. I stop a passing waitress and report I am a gyoza-free zone. It turns out that several other diners are in the same boat.

It’s quickly remedied and yes, there was langoustine, but the dish was hot, hot, hot, the marshmallow only providing light relief. Craig detected Szechuan pepper, and then some more.

“It tasted well when we made it but the flavours kept on giving,” said Luke later.

My tastebuds soon got some comfort from what looked like a Fab ice lolly from the Sixties, complete with sprinkles. This was the girly rival to the boys’ Zoom, linked to the Fireball XL5 and Thunderbirds series. I never knew Lady Penelope put gin in her lollies. Great fun.

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Beef shin, corned beef, crisps

During a break I ask why they are doing this. Do they have their own place in mind? Not if Ashley’s going curtain-up on Silversmiths Mark 3 (or is it 4?).

Turns out they feel mildly constrained by working to order, worrying about meeting profit margins and getting the knock-back from owners on ideas they like.  There are times all chefs will feel like gastronomic Pythons and say ‘Now for something completely different.’

“With this, we can do whatever we want and, hopefully, build up a bit of a reputation,” Luke says.

The lads have spent time working together, chiefly at the Rising Sun, Fulwood, and Chequers at Froggatt Edge, and developing the pop-up took about two years. Hardest part was finding the venue and Airoma was the first ‘do’ at this new function room.

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Did Lady Penelope have gin in hers?

Next up was the dish which came closest to the croquette for me, a roundel of oh-so-soft and melting beef contrasting with some home made corned beef.  “We used beef cheek for the corned beef and the shin was braised for nine hours in black treacle,” said Ashley, a chef who is all curls and tattoos.

The dish had what I thought was a second outing for the brown sauce seen in the opening dish, in the form of a jel, but it turned out to be greatly reduced Henderson’s Relish. That brown sauce was actually good old HP!

There were a couple of home made potato crisps as garnish, so good they can always go into business making them if restaurants pall.

There was more, notably a very well-judged piece of parkin and some fun bourbon biscuits with a parmesan shortbread.

So if I had paid the full whack, was it worth it? Certainly. Not everything worked completely but enough for me. I reckon you can always tell when a kitchen is having fun. Some dishes may never be seen again, others will be ideas still in the making.

Just like that airoma which, I gather, was to be a take on Aero. Hasn’t made it yet but it did spawn a pop-up.

*Luke and Ashley will next be messing about and having a laugh with Airoma at the Loft Bar on November 28. Book on https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/airomaonce-upon-a-time-tickets-75578576557?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

*You can read what Craig thought of it  here

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Luke (left) and Ashley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All down to a doughnut!

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Peking Duck with a smoked duck and cherry salad

FOR once we got it right. After three years judging a heat in Whirlow Hall Farm Trust’s annual Sheff’s Kitchen contest, the city’s answer to MasterChef, top chef Cary Brown and I voted the same way as the diners who packed into the farm’s little cafe on a hot and sultry night. And, just like them, by a single point.

For us it all came down to a doughnut. But we’ll get to that later.

It’s always fun judging this contest. As someone who used to scoff food for a living it’s nice to be able to do it for charity, in this case for the city’s disadvantaged children who get a taste of country life down on the farm.

Two chefs battle it out to provide a three course meal on a chosen theme to 40 or so diners, knowing that one of them has got to lose. They’re giving up their time running busy kitchens so in my book they deserve a round of applause before they start.

So does Cary. Still in his chef’s whites, he whizzed in from cooking at a local grandee’s wedding. Where? Cary was a little unsure. He got there by satnav. It turned out it was Bawtry.

As for me, I strolled in after scrumping the farm’s solitary medlar tree in the car park.

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Coronation crab cocktail

The chefs on the menu were Leslie Buddington, the man in charge at the award-winning Brocco boutique hotel since it opened, up against social enterprise Blend Kitchen’s head honcho Chis Hanson on Pinstone Street.

The theme for the night was East Meets West Fusion Food which gave the chefs carte blanche to do anything they wanted. And they pretty much did. Although it’s for fun, as judges we take it seriously. After all, we’re the chaps who last year were both blown away by a course we rated dish of the night but still gave the prize to the other chef!

Very seriously for Cary. He can get very technical on a single mouthful, analysing it ingredient by ingredient. This is a man who would give a round of beans on toast the third degree. As for me, I ask deep questions such as “Do I like it?”

We kicked off with Leslie’s miso glazed cod in a ‘pea and ham’ soup, where the pea was replaced by the very oriental edamame, versus Chris’s Coronation crab, a sort of crustacean arancini or bon bon. We had different scores but not by much.

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Miso-glazed cod

For the main course it was Chris’s impressive rump of lamb, with a touch of tandoori, up against Leslie’s beautifully judged orientally flavoured duck breast partnered with a refreshing duck and cherry salad. Chris had married his dish with ‘pommes Anna’ and mustard seed, really a sort of hot pot as the spuds topped more lamb, this time shank. Difficult to separate the two.

So it all came down to dessert. Would it be Chris’s very rich cardamom-spiked mousse (and Cary is a chocoholic) or Leslie’s Sichuan pepper parfait with a mandarin doughnut and salted caramel popcorn?

That chocolate was good and the cardamom came through but was it more ganache than mousse? We expected spiciness from the pepper but what we got was a delicate perfumed flavour. Very nice. Too bad about the over salty popcorn but, hey, that little doughnut is a goer.

And so, by a single point, not more than a mouthful, it was the doughnut wot won it! Well, sort of . .

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Judges and chefs: From the left, me, Cary, Chris and Leslie