BENTLEY Primary School chef Alison Dombrick is one of three dinner ladies from the South East of England who will go head to head in the live LACA School Chef of the Year 2018 regional finals.

To be held at the Nestle headquarters at Gatwick on January 11, Mrs Dombrick will be battling it out for the regional title against two rivals – Ouafa Bahioul from Carshalton and Cheryl Humphries from Cranbrook.

All three qualified for the regional final following the first round of judging.

Against the clock and under the scrutiny of a panel of judges, they will have to prepare four portions of a main course and a dessert suitable for serving to 11 year olds in school. They will have 90 minutes and a maximum spend of £1.30 is allowed for the cost of a single meal.

The winner from this regional heat will go on to represent the whole of the South East of England, against nine other regional champions, in the national final in Stratford-upon-Avon on March 8.

The line up of dishes on this year’s contestants’ menus is not only impressive but also demonstrates the exceptional culinary expertise of today’s school chefs. Ingredients, flavours and adventurous themes have been drawn from exotic locations right across the globe.

Competing with the blessing of Hampshire schools catering provider HC3S, Mrs Dombrick, 45, will be cooking red Thai chicken curry served with coconut infused white/brown rice and accompaniments, followed by a popeye brownie - a chocolate brownie with hidden vegetable with coconut and lime-infused custard.

A chef since 1990, the Alton mum of four has been cooking for the children at Bentley Primary School since 2010 where she has a team of three who serve between 150 and 170 meals per day for the 206 children in the school.

Along with her family, they are her best critics and she has used them to test out her recipes. They already enjoy her red Thai chicken curry, which is a regular part of the school menu, and think her chocolate brownies are fantastic, even if they do contain spinach!

Having won the award for best pudding in 2012, Mrs Dombrick became regional champion in 2014 and was a South East finalist last year in the 2017 School Chef of the Year competition. This year she is hoping to do even better - she is planning to be “a bit more organised” and has also taken a few tips on presentation from 2016 MasterChef champion Jane Devonshire, whose final dish in the competition happened to be a curry.

Commenting at the start of the 2018 competition, LACA national chairman Tim Blowers said: “There is no secret formula to participating in the School Chef of the Year Competition. It simply requires school cooks with passion, dedication and oodles of culinary skill mixed together with delicious, nutritious dishes prepared with creativity and flair.

“Every year, this competition allows us to demonstrate to the wider world both the professional expertise of today’s school chefs and the excellent meals they prepare tirelessly every single day in schools across the country. The impact that this has on the health and vitality of children and young people cannot be underestimated. It underpins why all schools should provide quality, nutritious meals every day.

“Our school chefs and their teams are totally committed to the role they play in educating children and young people about how food and eating better can help them achieve more, both academically and physically.

“LACA School Chef of the Year is a celebration of all that’s best about education catering. I wish all of our 2018 contestants the very best of luck.”

In addition to the kudos of winning the national title, the 2018 champion will receive a £1,000 cash prize and a trophy. He or she will also be awarded a commemorative plaque, a work experience trip, and an invitation to a calendar of high-profile catering industry engagements. The national second and third place chefs will receive cash prizes of £500 and £300 respectively.