Antrim born 'King of Potatoes' Mark Abbott wins Northern Ireland heats of Great British Menu with highest score across competition
An Antrim chef has become the highest scoring contestant on the Great British Menu.
Mark Abbott beat rival Chris McGowan in the Northern Ireland regional finals of BBC 2's Great British Menu.
However his high scores - including two tens for his potato based starter and his fish course - have made him the highest scoring competitor across the week.
Mark beat off competition from Chris, and also Eddie Attwell, currently chef at St Kyrans in Co Cavan to win the Northern Ireland title.
He will now go on to compete with the seven other regional winners in the national finals for a chance to cook at the Great Britons Banquet at the Houses of Parliament.
Mark was back in Northern Ireland this week and even visited his competitor Chris McGowan's restaurant Wine and Brine in Moira for a "lovely lunch", particularly praising the black pudding sausage rolls he had sampled.
The Antrim man is now head chef at the two Michelin starred Cambridge restaurant Midsummer House owned by top chef Daniel Clifford
But he has not forgotten his roots and this week also paid a visit to Belfast Metropolitan College where he first learned his skills.
He revealed there how tough the competition really is and his shock at his incredible scores.
"I was speechless when I got those scores, I work hard but did not expect to do so well," he said.
"I was an emotional wreck all that week during filming – what you don’t see is that the starter and fish course are both filmed on the same day – we were on set from 6.30am to 9.30pm.
"The series is just going to heat up even more later on in the week as the competition continues."
Mark attributes much of his success and confidence to his two years spent training at Belfast Met's hospitality centre of excellence formerly at the college’s Brunswick Street campus and now in its flagship Titanic Quarter campus.
“I really enjoyed my time there and got great support and from all of the lecturers both in terms of skills and practical advice on how to make it in the industry," he said.
"The course and my supportive family really sparked my passion for food and cooking and allowed me to follow my ambitions."
Following Belfast Met, Mark attracted the eye of renowned chef Michael Deane and worked for him at his Howard Street restaurant.
"When I was 19 years-old I moved to Edinburgh and London to work in Michelin starred restaurants but I found the big city wasn’t for me," he said.
"I then settled in Midsummer House where I have been for six years and I absolutely love it."
His former tutor Thomas Turley said Mark is an inspiration to students.
“I am so proud of Mark, his performance last night was amazing, and to be awarded such high marks all this week is truly staggering," he said.
"I was so fortunate to have Mark in my group when he stared his chef’s programme at the college, and will be following the Great British Menu with huge pride throughout this series.
"Mark is an inspiration to the rest of our students. Belfast Met’s recently launched Linen Lounge, Scullery and Yard restaurants are now open to the public and are the training grounds for our aspiring chefs and food and beverage trainees – it teaches them how to work in any type of restaurant, anywhere in the world.”
The Great British Menu is shown on BBC 2 every evening, with the episodes on finals week starting at 7pm.