Two up-and-coming north Norfolk chefs claimed their place in the final of the Local Food Champion Challenge after impressing judges with skilful fish dishes.

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Ben Hughes, from The White Horse at Overstrand, and Ryan Lee, from Titchwell Manor, qualified for the showdown at Holkham Hall on September 4, which is being staged as part of the North Norfolk Food and Drink Festival.

They beat rival chefs Steven Bird, from Strattons Hotel in Swaffham, and Gemma Arnold, from The Hoste Arms in Burnham Market during the semi-final heats at Creake Abbey farmers’ market, near Fakenham, on Saturday.

Each competitor was given a main ingredient of sea bass and a basket of locally-sourced produce with which to create their dish in 30 minutes, watched by expert judges and a crowd of market-day shoppers.

The contest aims to promote young chefs and seasonal local ingredients. The eventual winner will be invited to London to attend a course at the Billingsgate Seafood Training School before being mentored by executive head chef Stephen Pini at Fishmongers’ Hall.

Diana Scott, organiser of the farmers market and one of the competition judges, said: “The whole point of the competition is to get young, up-and-coming chefs in contact with local producers and to explore all the wonderful ingredients we have got here.”

Mrs Scott described Ben Hughes’ dish as “very simple, but very, very well-flavoured”. She said: “He showed real competence in filleting his sea bass, which he pan-fried with a butter sauce flavoured with pancetta. His innate understanding of cooking was very impressive.”

Meanwhile, Ryan Lee’s dish, garnished with flower petals, was described as “absolutely beautiful”. “It had wonderful colour and he didn’t do too much to the sea bass, so the flavours could come through,” said Mrs Scott.

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