North East Chef of the Year crowned at HITS Expo

Food and drink, hospitality, tourism and supply chain sectors came together for the annual HITS Expo in Newcastle – where Lawrence Norman, chef de partie at The Broad Chare, was named North East Chef of the Year.

The annual chef of the year competition, which has been won by some of the region’s most celebrated chefs, was sponsored by Crosbys Catering Supplies and brought together six chefs from some of the region’s finest venues to compete in a three-course menu cook-off.

Meanwhile, the Young North East Chef of the Year competition, sponsored by Pink Lane Bakery, was won by 18-year-old Abigail Smith, commis chef at Rockliffe Hall.

Student teams from six of the region’s colleges also took part in the NECTA Inter-College competitions, sponsored by Erudus, which saw them compete in a variety of showcases from knife skills and fish prep to table settings and mixology.

The NECTA competitions were part of the larger two-day expo, which showcased an appetite for growth, innovation and collaboration in the North East and highlighted the vital roles the food and drink, hospitality, tourism and supply chain sectors play in forging the region’s identity and offer, as well as providing opportunities for businesses to make valuable connections.

Delivered by Food and Drink North East in partnership with and funded by Destination North East England and the North East Combined Authority, the HITS Expo 2024 welcomed more than 700 people across the two days.

Held May 13-14 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Newcastle, the event kicked off with a welcome address by Nick Kemp, leader of Newcastle City Council and North East Combined Authority cabinet member, who talked about how the visitor economy is set to be at the heart of the new North East Combined Authority’s work. This was followed by supply chain sessions on unveiling the impact of consumer behaviour, and sales and marketing strategies for business growth. Speakers included Carey McEvoy, director of TRKR; Sally Shortall, Duke of Northumberland chair of rural economy; and Harriet Lamb, CEO of WRAP.

The themes of skills and supply chains continued across the two days, with sessions on building brilliant careers in hospitality, and unlocking the North East visitor economy as well as spotlight talks on regenerative tourism and sustainability by Will Browning, head of growth at The Sustainable Restaurant Association; Cal Byerley, chef and co-owner of Michelin-starred Restaurant Pine, and Ian Thomas, Destination North East England lead.

While the talks and panel discussions with local and national industry experts were taking place upstairs, the Stephenson Suite on the ground floor was transformed into a live cooking theatre for the North East Culinary and Trade Awards (NECTA) competitions.

Ian Thomas, director of visitor economy at NewcastleGateshead Initiative and Destination North East England lead, said: “Bringing together tourism, hospitality, skills and innovation is what HITS Expo is all about and it’s been fantastic to see inspiration in every corner of the Crowne Plaza over the last couple of days – from young chefs and seasoned professionals whipping up a storm in the culinary competitions to the fascinating talks and showcases inspiring a new generation of hospitality and tourism superstars.

“As we work to double the value of the region’s visitor economy as England’s first Destination Development Partnership – I’m encouraged to see such drive, ambition and passion from every corner of the visitor economy and to see the collaboration and connection going on at every step.

“My thanks to Food and Drink North East, the North East Combined Authority and to my Destination North East England colleagues for providing such an amazing platform to bring the visitor economy and its passionate people together.”

Chris Jewitt, founder and CEO of Food and Drink North East and chair of NECTA, added: “The HITS Expo 2024 exemplifies the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation that defines our region. It’s inspiring to see businesses and individuals across the full supply chain coming together to showcase their talents and drive positive change within our local communities. This event underscores the importance of collaboration in nurturing our region’s food, drink, hospitality, manufacturing and tourism sectors for future generations.”

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