Friends lift culinary crown after entering mince and tatties contest for 'a giggle'

THEY are, by their own admission, terrible cooks.

But when it comes to making the traditional dish of mince and tatties, even professional chefs cannot compete.

Friends Julie Merrilees, 45, from Newtongrange, Midlothian, Carole Keltie, 42, from Trinity, and Carol Doherty, 42, from Banff, Aberdeenshire, were crowned winners of the annual Mince and Tatties Championship on the Isle of Mull on Saturday.

The trio – who called themselves the Mincing Queens – decided to take part in the annual competition, which has been held at the Mishnish Hotel in Tobermory since 2004, for "a giggle".

It was the first time in the competition's seven-year history that the title was claimed by joint competitors.

Mrs Merrilees said: "Carol Doherty and her partner Barney have got a cottage in Tobermory and Barney is a previous winner of the competition, and was taking part again this year.

"We were having a girly weekend at the cottage and decided at the last minute – on the day – to take part in the competition.

"We decided that we would get together and have a bit of competition. It sounded like fun. All four of us were sharing this wee house and kitchen. It was highly competitive and we were trying not to steal each other's potatoes!"

After preparing the mince and tatties at home, entrants took their dish to the hotel to be judged.

More than 20 people entered the contest, including professional chefs, but even their recipes weren't good enough to steal the title from the girls, who were taking part for the first time.

Mrs Merrilees, who is the manager of the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick, added: "We were shocked when we found out we had won because we really got together as friends for a bit of fun and to have a good giggle.

"We were tremendously honoured to win because some chefs from the area entered, too. My mother thought it was hysterical because I can't cook at all. All three of us are renowned for being really bad cooks.

"Barney was very confident that this would be a good year for him but the girls pipped him."

Mrs Merrilees believed it may have been her husband Alex's tip to add red wine to the mince that bagged them the culinary title.

Other entries included curry powder and exotic spices in a twist on the traditional Scottish dish.

Robert MacLeod, proprietor of the Mishnish Hotel and organiser of the championship, said: "The standard of the dishes this year was very high and the judges faced a difficult task in choosing a winner from the 22 entrants.

"However, the Mincing Queens thoroughly deserved their win."

Mrs Merrilees said there was another special ingredient to the dish but remained tight-lipped about what it was.

She added: "It's become such a wonderful experience for us that I'm sure we might come across and enter again next year."

IT'S A DIFFERENT GRAVY!

How to make the world's best mince and tatties:

Mince

Brown the mince in butter. Chop one onion and add to mince.

Chop three-quarters of a medium carrot and add to mince with a glass of red wine.

Add an Oxo cube and gravy granules.

Leave simmering for 30 minutes and turn heat off.

Add salt and pepper.

Potatoes

Boil 3-4 evenly chopped Kerr's Pink potatoes.

Simmer the potatoes in a touch of salt.

Drain the potatoes and add full fat butter and double cream.