A DECONSTRUCTED pistachio, strawberry and chocolate trifle and a concoction of spiced plums scooped Swindon chef Sam Parsons the title Heritage Pastry Chef of the Year.

He dreamt up the recipes for these two tantalising and luxurious dishes, then put together the paperwork, sourced the ingredients locally, and whipped up the desserts under pressure at the finals of the contest, in Luton.

The deconstructed trifle consisted of slices of sponge, chocolate cream, a white chocolate custard, jelly and fresh strawberries picked from Lotmead Farm in Swindon, adorned with a pistachio tuile – a crisp, wafer-thin biscuit. The recipe used butter from Netherend Farm in Gloucestershire, where it is traditionally churned.

His dish of spiced plums was served with gingerbread crumble, poached blackberries and yoghurt ice cream.

The inventiveness, attention to detail and quality of these two tempting desserts won him the title, a handsome wooden trophy, some state of the art cooking kit and – of course – the admiration of colleagues and fellow competitors.

“I am overwhelmed to have been recognised as Pastry Chef of the Year at a national level, against some really tough competition,” he said. “I am truly passionate about using local ingredients and the win is testament to the outstanding produce we have on our doorstep in the Wiltshire region.”

Organised by his employers, the hospitality provider BaxterStorey, the contest challenged chefs from all over the UK and Ireland to showcase the best produce from their respective regions in tasty, well presented dishes.

Following a series of regional heats, the 13 competition finalists had to create two dishes in 90 minutes. Expert judges awarded top marks to those chefs who could demonstrate the best use of locally-sourced produce, with skill, innovation and high standards of presentation.

Not only has Sam, 31, been crowned Pastry Chef of the Year, but two years ago he took the title of Chef of the Year at the inaugural competition in 2015.

Sam, who works as a sous chef at Nationwide’s offices in Wakefield House, explains that his first inspiration for pastry-making was his grandmother, Joyce Vincent.

“I always love making pastries. Since I was little, I enjoyed baking at my Nan’s house. She was great at baking cakes, custard slices, and so on,” he remembers. Sadly she passed away before seeing just how well those early lessons paid off, with Sam’s national success – but Sam reckons she would have been delighted.

He was born in Swindon, educated at Commonweal School and then studied catering at Swindon College, where he earned his NVQs. Sam started off working in contract catering, working his way up as his skills and experience developed. He worked as a chef de partie for Sodexo, then seven years ago joined BaxterStorey, where he became a sous chef.

He works in a team of five chefs, with a couple of kitchen assistants and the front of house staff at Wakefield House, serving food for thousands of people every day – including three to four hundred covers of hot food each day.

As well as the day to day work in the kitchens, Sam was keen to continue developing his skills so he joined BaxterStorey’s Chefs’ Academy, taking an NVQ qualification within the company.

“It was great – we travelled to all sorts of different places to learn about produce,” he says. “We went on fishing trips, to farmers markets, and even foraging.”

These learning experiences helped build up a portfolio, and he took practical exams, to achieve the qualification. When Sam entered to national competition in 2015, he had to prepare a meal for two, with a main course of rabbit three ways – a confit leg, loin and rack, served with textures of carrot, broad beans and asparagus. The dessert picked up the theme of threes, with a trio of rhubarb.

“It was the first big competition I had ever done. Winning was a bit of a shock, but it was a huge confidence boost. I would definitely recommend people enter, as its great for your confidence and very friendly; everyone’s really supportive of each other.”

As well as the timed practical cooking section, competitors must create the menu, source local produce, and complete a lot of paperwork – such as flavour wheels and allergen information.

Sam says he gets inspiration for his award-winning creations from all kinds of sources – including other chefs, television programmes, and sometimes ideas that seem to simply come out of the blue.

“Everyone here has been really pleased and proud of me,” he said. “It’s a very nice feeling. Everyone is very supportive, and I’ve had lots of messages.”

While employees and visitors at Wakefield House might not be eating rabbit three ways for lunch, the kitchen does take pride in creating great menus and tantalising salads.

“We build them up so it looks really pleasing to the eye, and we write our own menus,” he says. “I’ve worked for BaxterStorey for seven years, and it’s been great. They are really supportive with the training.”

And his next steps?

“I would like to move up within the company, and be head chef one day.”

Sam enjoys cooking for fun, too, and often prepares meals for friends and family, especially on birthdays and at Christmas.

His favourite celebrity chef is Marcus Wareing, MasterChef judge and chef patron of the two-Michelin-starred restaurant Marcus, in Knightsbridge.

“I like his style of cooking. I went for a meal at his restaurant for my 30th birthday last year– it was amazing,” he says.

Matt Hay, BaxterStorey group chef director and judge of the Heritage Chef contest, said the competition was a chance for their chefs to showcase their skills, using locally sourced and seasonal ingredients.

“It is something engrained in every chef at BaxterStorey and the standard this year was particularly high. We are proud to have such talented and passionate people in our business, and Heritage Chef is a great opportunity for us to recognise them, as shown by this year’s very deserving winners.”