An Invictus Games tennis gold medallist made it ‘game’, set and match when he won a cookery competition for veterans, run by a great supporter of Help for Heroes.
It’s the second year that Swinton Park has run the competition to give wounded, injured and sick service personnel and veterans a flavour of life in a professional kitchen.
This year’s winner was Alex Krol from Merseyside who signed up for the experience so that he could help his wife Jayne more in the kitchen following the birth, a few weeks earlier, of their first child, son Xander.
Alex was paralysed from the chest down after a motorbike accident in 2004 caused severe spinal injuries and ended his military career with the Royal Marines.
He and the other competitors – Julie Hopkin and Laura Knowles - spent a training day with a Michelin star chef, learning how to cook their restaurant’s signature game dish. They then came together for a ‘cook off’, resembling a mini Masterchef, when they had to reproduce that dish, on their own and in just two hours, ready for judging.
Alex’s combination of pigeon, with its numerous textures of chick pea dahl, broccoli puree, mini bread-crumbed haggis, marinated stem broccoli and fig jam impressed the two judges - Richard Townsend of Gourmet Game and Steve Bulmer of Swinton Park Cookery School.
Alex said, surprisingly, a lot of the techniques he uses playing tennis came in useful for cooking too.
“It sounds daft but it’s all about visualization and regarding each stage as a chapter of a book – that’s how I approach tennis too.
“There was a lot of elements going on in my dish so I had to concentrate really hard but I knew, if I could pull it off on the day, it would be alright.
“Thanks to the training I was given by Richard Allen, the Executive Chef at Rockcliffe Hall near Darlington, I now have the confidence and the skills to push myself to do more in the kitchen and try new things.”
First prize was a week’s training at Swinton Park Cookery School. All competitors received a set of Meyer pans. The runners up were mentored by Joshua Overington at Le Cochon Aveugle in York and Steve Smith of the Freemasons at Wiswell in Lancashire.
Melanie Dickinson, interim Centre Manager at Phoenix House, said the aim of Help for Heroes was to inspire, enable and support individuals to lead active, independent and fulfilling lives through many forms of support.
“Vocational visits also play a vital role in this but Swinton Park has generously taken this to another level completely. Its competition gives the participants an experience they never forget,” she said.
“Whether or not they use it as a fantastic step up into a potential new career, they will all have a renewed confidence about trying new things which they can apply to many other aspects of life on ‘civvy street’.”