A teenager who won the North East Young Chef of the Year despite being the youngest entrant has secured a job with a Michelin-starred chef.

Last month Abigail Smith (18) won the title of North East Young Chef of the Year title despite her being the youngest participant in the competition. She has now secured the position of ‘chef de partie’ at Rockliffe Hall, near Darlington, with James Close, the former chef patron of two Michelin star, Raby Hunt.

Abigail, from Darlington, has marked the end of her current studies at , where she has dedicated herself to becoming a professional chef. As a Level 3 Professional Cookery student, Abigail has not only honed her skills but had also made an indelible mark on the national culinary stage.

From the moment she stepped into , Abigail was determined to make the most of her time there. Under the expert guidance of her tutor, Lynn Mitchinson, she embarked on a journey that would transform her from a passionate amateur into a skilled and confident chef.

Lynn, a seasoned chef and an inspiring educator, saw potential in Abigail from day one. "Abigail has an incredible talent," Lynn said. "But more than that, she has the determination and the heart to turn that talent into something extraordinary."


The 18-year-old was one of six talented finalists aged under 23 to compete for the accolade. Organised by NECTA (North East Culinary and Trade Association), the brief was to prepare, cook and present a 3-course menu themed around ‘green gastronomy’ to a team of expert judges. Finalists were asked to demonstrate knowledge of sustainability themes in their menus, as well as showing a clear awareness of seasonal produce and use ingredients sourced locally where possible.

Abigail wowed the judges with her menu and gained praise from the judges for her meticulous technique and innovative flavour combinations and was named as the overall winner on the day. She will now go on to complete a two-week internship at Michelin-starred Restaurant Pine in Northumberland as part of her prize. 

As a result of her win at the North East Culinary and Trade Awards (NECTA), she will now go on to compete in the semi-final of the national heat of Young Chef of the Year, organised by the Craft Guild of Chefs.

Under Lynn's mentorship, Abigail flourished and this is the third accolade she has achieved in her early-culinary career, having achieved ‘Gold’ at the Craft Guild of Chefs Mayor Chefs Culinary Challenge 2023 and achieving ‘Silver’ at the Salon Culinaire Major Chefs Culinary Challenge 2024, each one a stepping stone that refined her skills and boosted her confidence. 

When asked about her latest triumph, Abigail said: “The thing I enjoyed most about the day of the competition was being surrounded by driven people who shared the same passion and interest for food and cooking as myself. The competition has already opened so many doors for me including conversations and opportunities with incredibly skilled chefs who are at the top of their game in the industry.”

She continued: "Studying at has been an incredible journey for me. The support and guidance I received from my tutor were invaluable, and their dedication and expertise helped me excel in my studies and achieve my goals. The college's encouragement to participate in competitions played a significant role in my development, leading to a promotion and an opportunity to work with James Close at Rockcliffe Hall. I highly recommend to anyone seeking a supportive and enriching educational environment."

Click here to find out more about hospitality and catering courses at .

Link: /courses/hospitality-catering