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WATCH: Double champion Kellie leaves Cullen skink hopefuls in a twist!

By Alan Beresford

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IRISH eyes were smiling at the Cullen Skink World Championships on Sunday as St Patrick's Day turned out to be one to remember for a Moray hotel owner.

For the second year running the Seafield Arms Hotel once again played host to the hugely popular event, which is run by Discover Cullen.

Two main categories were up for grabs – Traditional Skink and Skink with a Twist – and this year there were a couple of new additions in the shape of People's Choice awards in both sections.

Last year saw Aberlour Hotel managing director Kellie Spooner take the runner-up spot in the Twist and she was back in Cullen to see if she could do one better. A stunned and elated Ms Spooner was to exceed her own expectations, sweeping the board with both trophies. It was a good afternoon for the hotel, with Alison Taylor from the business taking the People's Choice Traditional Skink accolade.

The inaugural People's Choice Skink with a Twist honour went to Kai-Uwe Stutzkeitz from Maybole, Ayrshire.

Among the excitement of the event there was a poignant note in the proceedings, with tributes paid to the memory of Graham Bell, Discover Cullen treasurer and secretary, who sadly passed away on December 22, 2023 and after whom this year's championships were dedicated. Mr Bell was well known in the town and played an integral role in Discover Cullen from managing the tourist office and organising the Cullen Skink World Championships.

WATCH: The winners are unveiled by Lord Lieutenant of Banffshire Andrew Simpson.

Speaking after the contest, Ms Spooner said: "I'm speechless, it must be the luck of the Irish with this being St Paddy's Day!

"I didn't see anyone else's [entries] so I wasn't sure what they were doing; people were coming around and saying my skink was really nice so there was lots of positive feedback during the day.

"When my name was announced twice I was like 'No!', I couldn't believe it!

"I'm not sure what edged it for me in both categories. I keep my fish whole and I did one big potato, which is a very Irish thing. You have your soup then take your fish to the side then your potato to the side.

"The Twist was very intensive, there were a lot of things going on."

Ms Spooner's Twist took in many different ingredients, most of them fired, including a crispy fried egg yolk, crispy capers, tobacco onions, parma ham and haggis bon-bons.

She added that Cullen skink was always on the menu at the Aberlour Hotel, which she has run for the past 12 years.

Presenting the awards was Lord Lieutenant of Banffshire Andrew Simpson, who noted that attending the event as part of his duties was something which stirred no little envy among his fellow Lord Lieutenants.

Addressing contestants and spectators alike before revealing the winners, he said: "When I was here last year shortly afterwards we held the Scottish Lord Lieutenants' Association meeting...and what intrigued me was how many people were asking me about the Cullen Skink World Championships.

"There was definitely an air of jealousy and quite right, too! I'm totally biased, of course, but I think that this is a fantastic event we hold here.

"I think it's fantastic in so many ways. One is simply to promote our area, it's a good news story for our area. It's celebrating the heritage and traditions of our area.

"It's good also that we're celebrating the ingredients of our area. We've got a lot to be proud of and we've seen that today with what people have done with local ingredients and made some fantastic dishes.

"We're not just celebrating ingredients, we're not just celebrating heritage and tradition, we're also celebrating the skills and talents which are in this area. Can I say to all the chefs 'Well done!', it's absolutely amazing produce you've made."

Discover Cullen chairman David McCubbin paid tribute to the memory and contribution of the late Mr Bell.

He said: "Graham was always very good at organising this so this year's competition is in memory of him and his name has been engraved in the back of the Traditional Skink cup.

"Hopefully this will be a fitting tribute to Graham.

"It's been an amazing day, the sun was shining – which helped with passing trade – there were lots of people in Cullen and lots of people coming to the competition. We can see that there were more spectators coming to the event than last year.

"Normally Sunday morning is a bit quieter but this year it was really busy, which we've never had before.

"The event and awareness of it is growing year on year so we're really, really happy.

"In terms of entries we were full with a waiting list although unfortunately a couple of people had to pull out last minute. We get enquiries about the championships all year round and we've had people here today who were sussing things out before entering themselves next year.

"There's also a spin-off benefit for the local shops, cafés and restaurants in the town, especially at lunchtime."

Given the difficult task of choosing the Tradition and Twist winners was a judging panel comprising Jimmy Buchan – of Trawlermen fame – from Amity Fish Ltd, UHI Moray's Alistair Fowlie, Louie Paterson of Cluny Fish Ltd and Euan Paterson from Visit Moray Speyside.

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