When Isabella Raccagna was announced as the Sussex Young Chef of the Year at the 2019 Sussex Food and Drink Awards, she was the first woman to ever win.
And to say she was surprised is an understatement.
“It was a complete shock,” the 22-year-old says.
“I couldn’t believe it when they called out my name it was a massive surprise.
“I was really nervous and because I had overrun on the day I didn’t think I had done it.”
Isabella also had other teething issues.
“I live in Portsmouth and had to come to Goodwood to pick up my equipment and it wasn’t until I was halfway to Brighton I realised I hadn’t picked up my chef whites. I just burst into tears and my boyfriend said he would get me some.
“When I got there people had picked their spot and I had to ask people to budge up so I could fit in, it just added to the nerves.”
However she did something right as the judges said: “Isabella is a real talent and definitely one to watch in the future. She pulled out all the stops in the toughest competition we have seen for this category.”
Isabella works as chef de partie at Goodwood’s Farmer, Butcher, Chef.
For the competition Isabella had a budget of £15 per person and had to use seasonal and local produce.
Devising the menu took a lot of research and Isabella phoned a number of suppliers to source UK artichokes and visited farm shops to talk about where they get their products.
“I also spoke to the butcher here are Goodwood about sustainable cuts of meat.
“I was really lucky that at Goodwood we have an amazing herb garden which helped keep costs down I also used the apples we grow,” she enthuses.
“I also spoke to the fish supplier we use based in Brighton. At Farmer, Butcher, Chef we only use certain boats that fish within 25 miles without trawler nets.
“Every day they call us from Brighton to say what they have and we put the menu together.”
The first person she told when she got down to the final three was her nan, who she describes as her ‘favourite person in the world’.
And is it her family that has inspired her culinary career path.
“I have an English nan and Italian grandparents who have always cooked,” she reveals.
“I used to cook with my nan a lot, a lot of home cooked meals whereas my nonna did an Cordon Bleu cooking course.
“It is more of an experience. People getting round a table talking and catching up it is about more than just the food but about the shared experience.”
Isabella had originally applied to do a business management and culinary art course at university but decided at 18-years-old to do an apprenticeship instead.
Her career has seen her work at the Sanderson in London helping to devise its famous Mad Hatters afternoon tea and the tipsy evening tea featuring alcohol infused cakes.
“I ran the section which saw about 300 covers on a Friday and Saturday and probably about 200 on a Sunday,” she says.
“I then worked at the Goring when it had its Michelin star.
“I have learnt a lot in all the kitchens I have worked in. I was prepared for a lot of shouting and swearing but it doesn’t have to be like that.
“I was 18 when I started working in kitchens and it was a little scary. And I was often the only female which was daunting. One chef in particular took the mick but I have learnt now that some things are just not acceptable. I was very quiet when I started but you can’t stop me talking now.
“It took me a while but I have found my voice.”
When she decided to leave London she first looked at Portsmouth.
“There were some good places as I didn’t want to drop too much below Michelin but no on one was hiring so I extended my search and came across Farmer, Butcher Chef,” she explains.
“I love the concept here, that I can talk to the butcher, we can forage on site it just all works and it feels like a family.”
At Farmer, Butcher, Chef Isabella is currently working on the larder section.
In the past she has worked on the garnish section adding the final elements on sides and starters before a move onto sauces and meats.
“With garnishes you can create more but sauces and meats everything is slow cooked or made well in advance so you have to have enough as it is unacceptable to run out,” she explains.
“I really enjoy working on larder but I would love to do pastry as I think every good chef should be able to make pastry.
“I’m not a fan of the measure out 200g of this and that but I know it is important.”
To those that are thinking about entering the Sussex Food and Drinks Awards, Isabella says: “It is a great experience and really helped me build my confidence.”
Isabella’s award winning menu:
Citrus cured sea bream served with pickled red cabbage, pickled shimeji mushrooms and a cabbage gel.
Pan fried lady steak, cooked in dripping with mushroom ketchup and wild garlic served with baby Jerusalem artichokes and oyster mushrooms. Apple and cherry blossom sorbet, rosemary crumble served with Chantilly cream parfait.
l The judging panel included the nationally acclaimed chef and Great British Menu Winner, Matt Gillan from Heritage, George Blogg from Gravetye Manor, Tristan Mason from Restaurant Tristan, Daniel Clifford from the two Michelin star Midsummer House and Fran Villani, food blogger and designer along with sponsor and former restauranteur Adrian Burr from Blakes Foods.
l For more information on Farmer, Butcher, Chef visit www.goodwood.com/stay-dine-relax/farmer-butcher-chef/
Pictures: Alex Benwell