A YOUNG Thai man who arrived in the country not knowing a word of English is now in the running to become the best young chef in the North West.

Mai Trising, who works as a full-time sous chef at the Black Swan, Ravenstonedale, has won through to the final of Essential Cuisine's North West Young Chef of the Year competition. He will be competing against five other chefs in the final of the competition to be held at Manchester in May.

"I'm really excited to be in the final," said Mai, who earned his place following a semi-final in Kendal. "I'm nervous and scared, but I will do my best."

Mai joined the team at the Black Swan, aged 13, after arriving in the UK from Thailand with his mother. He worked as a part-time pot washer.

Now, aged 21, he works alongside head chef Scott Fairweather who described him as his 'right hand man.'

"Mai is in charge of the kitchen whenever I step out," said Mr Fairweather. "We work very closely together. Because he's so young, he's open to new ideas and ways of thinking."

After joining the Black Swan from the Punch Bowl at Crosthwaite last October, Mr Fairweather soon noticed Mai's culinary talent and started training him for the young chef competition.

"Mai is enthusiastic and hard working, taking on an enormous amount of responsibility for his age," he said. "He deserves everything he gets, and this is a natural step in his career."

"I like cooking food for people and making sure they enjoy their dinner. When you hear good feedback, you want to hear it again," said Mai. "I like bringing an Asian twist into my cooking with spices like lemon grass."

The owners of the Black Swan have worked hard to improve their food offering over the years, winning many local and national awards, including AA Pub of the Year (England), and being featured in Michelin's 'Eating out in Pubs' and 'The Good Hotel Guide.'

Owner Louise Dinnes said: "We are so proud of Mai. He works really hard and put his heart into everything he does. We are all joining him at the finals and embarrassing him terribly."

In the future, Mai would like to become a head chef himself, or own his own restaurant.

"I'm so grateful to everyone at the Black Swan for their support," he said.