Stephen is aiming to serve up a winner

Jim Morahan

The Belfast wizard was lost in concentration putting the finishing touches to his creation roast whole monkfish in black olive oil in Dublin's Shelbourne Hotel.

Stephen will parade his skills against chefs from 23 other countries who have also been invited to battle for world supremacy at the Bocuse d'Or culinary competition in Lyon, France on January 25 and 26.

Talk about it being hot in the kitchen ...contestants must prepare 14 portions of a meat dish and 14 portions of a fish dish as well as 84 garnishes in under five hours. All of this happens from scratch before an appreciative audience of thousands and the glare of dozens of TV lights and cameras.

Stephen, 29, will be backed up by garland-laden Trevor Cunningham of Nuremore Lodge. Last year's winner of the Baileys Euro-toques Young Chef of the Year contest, Trevor will be his commis chef.

Former legendary patron John Howard, late of Le Coq Hardi, will be the Irish judge at the competition. He and his international colleagues will assess dishes for flavour and taste not forgetting presentation and originality.

We restrained ourselves sufficiently long for the photographers to finish their work before putting the dish to the ultimate test.

It's fair to say it was passed with flying colours not only by us but by the top chefs who assisted in the development of Stephen's showpiece dishes and who were also present to sample the fare.

Comparing the prestige of the Bocuse d'Or to the 100 metres in the Olympics as the pinnacle event, Ross Lewis, of Chapter One, was lost in admiration for the Irish contender. "He's a guy with a big future," he said of Stephen, who is private chef to millionaire businessman Dr Ed Haughey.

Frenchman Marc Amand, of La Rousse Foods, is main sponsor of Ireland's team. "The chefs have given a lot to us so we're happy to give something back," said Marc, a former Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud top chef himself. La Rousse, which he set up 12 years ago, employs 80 in its speciality foods facilities in Belfast and Dublin.

The Bocuse d'Or, held every two years, is named after legendary French chef Paul Bocuse. Every country wants to win it. Perhaps it's Ireland's turn in 2005.

ends We restrained ourselves sufficiently long for the photographers to finish their work before putting the dish to the ultimate test.

It's fair to say it was passed with flying colours not only by us but by the top chefs who assisted in the development of Stephen's showpiece dishes and who were also present to sample the fare.

Comparing the prestige of the Bocuse d'Or to the 100 metres in the Olympics as the pinnacle event, Ross Lewis, of Chapter One, was lost in admiration for the Irish contender. "He's a guy with a big future," he said of Stephen, who is private chef to millionaire businessman Dr Ed Haughey.

Frenchman Marc Amand, of La Rousse Foods, is main sponsor of Ireland's team. "The chefs have given a lot to us so we're happy to give something back," said Marc, a former Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud top chef himself. La Rousse, which he set up 12 years ago, employs 80 in its speciality foods facilities in Belfast and Dublin.

The Bocuse d'Or, held every two years, is named after legendary French chef Paul Bocuse. Every country wants to win it. Perhaps it's Ireland's turn in 2005.

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