BENTLEY Primary School chef Alison Dombrick was one of nine lunch experts cooking on gas in a bid to scoop the title of South East School Chef of the Year 2017.

Held in the Nestle headquarters at Gatwick, the competition saw all nine chefs working against the clock to prepare four portions of a main course and dessert, at a maximum cost of £1.30 per head, and suitable for serving to 11 year olds.

The competitors had 90 minutes to cook their dishes which, in Alison’s case, had been carefully created in memory of her father, Alan Cook, who died in March last year, and of Angel, a former pupil who died in a car crash – both of whom loved her food.

The starting point for her menu came out of the Great Bentley Bake Off, held at school as part of Hampshire Fare’s British Food Fortnight and using recipes that children may have enjoyed when at school in the early 1900s.

Based on the idea that at one time school cooks would have made up a large batch of minced meat and mixed toasted bread triangles in to give it bulk, Alison, 44, gave the dish a modern twist by adding finely chopped ‘hidden’ vegetables and shaping the mince into meatballs in a smokey chilli tomato sauce and served with ‘jewelled’ rice, tomoato salsa and rocket leaves.

This was followed by her interpretation of Hampshire Apple Dapple Dessert – apple in a pastry case, glazed with sugar coating and served with fresh fruit and caramel sauce. This came from a recipe baked by pupil Lola Pinchess, who won first prize with it in the school’s Bake Off competition.

Having taken the South East Schools title in 2014, Alison, a mum of four who lives in Alton, was no stranger to the competition which, she said, was still “tough”, with the judges having a difficult job to decide on a winner.

But this time it was not to be her day and the competition was won by Barry Brewington, of Medway UTC in Chatham, who prepared Moroccan meatballs and panna cotta.

Barry will now go on to compete in the national finals in March – an experience which in 2014 Alison described as “fabulous but scary!”

Employed by HC3S, which caters for Hampshire schools, and having trained at Alton College, Alison has been a chef since 1990 and has been cooking for the children at Bentley Primary School since 2010, where she has a team of three who serve up to 170 meals a day for the 206 children in the school.

They are her best critics and, she said, having used them to test out her recipes, she said they “absolutely loved” her choice of menu.