Carluke student helps college win Atlantic Cup in US contest

Russell, back right, celebrates the win with the team, and with Masterchef Gary Maclean front second right.
Russell, back right, celebrates the win with the team, and with Masterchef Gary Maclean front second right.

A student chef from Carluke has helped City of Glasgow College retain its international cook-off title in a live head-to-head competition in America.

Russell Starkey, who studied HND professional cookery, was part of a culinary team mentored by City of Glasgow College senior chef lecturer Gary Maclean, the current BBC Masterchef: The Professionals winner, during the competition.

The team emerged victorious to retain the prestigious Atlantic Cup against Maryland’s Anne Arundel Community College, regarded as one of the best culinary schools in America.

For the competition, the team of five students were presented with a “mystery basket” filled with blueberries, rhubarb, baby spinach, quinoa, chanterelle mushrooms, tomatoes, corn, duck and soft shell crabs — a Maryland staple at this time of year. Russell, 33, and his fellow students had 30 minutes to plan a three-course meal using those ingredients, then two and a half hours to make it.

The former Carluke High School pupil said: “The most challenging part for me was preparing and cooking a duck that was three times bigger than I had ever seen. Rendering down the fat took longer than I had anticipated and given the time frame, I was under a bit of pressure, but I feel I nailed it in the end.

“The soft shell crab was easier than our native brown crab to break down as you don’t have to shell it or take the meat out. However, it felt a bit mean cutting its face off, which is the first step of preparing the crab.

“I enjoyed cooking everything but I was most excited about compressing watermelon with gin, which we paired alongside the soft shell crab and a sweetcorn salsa. I had never tried this before so as a chef these experimental aspects are always the most exciting.”

Last year Russell was part of the team who triumphed over their American opponents in the inaugural Atlantic Cup cooking challenge in Glasgow.

“It was nice to have been involved in the two legs of the competition, first showing them around Glasgow and then getting to see some of America, whilst experiencing their best cuisine,” said Russell.

“Working as part of the team and with the students from Anne Arundel was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had during my time at City of Glasgow College.

“It felt more than a competition as we got to engage outside of the kitchen, see their culture and how they work.”

Gary Maclean said, “The students performed superbly under the pressure of cooking from a mystery box in front of a live audience and to a strict time scale.

“It was a fantastic achievement to retain the Atlantic Cup.

“For us, it’s definitely about a cultural exchange as much as a competition.

“This experience will help build the young chefs’ skills and confidence, particularly in an increasingly global culinary arts world.”

And City of Glasgow College principal and chief executive Paul Little commented: “The students have really done themselves and the whole of our college proud with their dedication, professionalism and success in retaining the Atlantic Cup. After the success of this competition, we hope to be able to expand this partnership in the future.”