A school dinner lady from Croxley Green has proved she can take the heat of the kitchen by qualifying for the finals of a national cooking competition.

Master chef Wendy Kemp, from Windmill Drive, beat two rival school cooks on Thursday to become the "Local Authority Caterers Association Eastern School Chef of the Year 2012". Her Chinese inspired menu of noodles, shredded pork and spring rolls has secured her a place in the national final, held in May.

The 51-year-old said: "We were all standing in a line and they give out certificates for participation and then they announced me as the winner, it was great, it's the first time I've entered it so I was very pleased."

As a cook manager, Ms Kemp has three staff, and has worked at Malvern Way school for four years, having previously been a full time mother, retail manager, a publican, and a chef.

At the school she pioneered a reward scheme where children are given stickers for finishing their dinner or staying sat down in their seat.

Her favourite things to cook at work include chicken pie, curries, spaghetti bolognese, and lasagne.

She said: "I went to Malvern Way as a child, it looks exactly the same. We didn't used to get curry and things like that though, it was all stews and lumpy mashed potato.

"As a single parent it's easy to fit my job in with looking after my daughter. I love to see kids eating and especially eating healthily."

The annual LACA competition tests preparation, cooking, creativity and presentation skills.

Entrants must produce a two-course meal that would appeal to eleven-year-olds in just 90 minutes, costing a maximum of £1.50.

Ms Kemp said: "When my daughter was still at school we put a questionnaire together and found that Chinese was definitely the students' favourite and I used local watercress from the beds in Sarratt."

The "East Meets West" main included noodles, vegetables and shreds of pork poached in Chinese flavoured broth. It was served with spring rolls and crispy seaweed Her "Chinese Whispers" pudding was made from frozen fruits blitzed with evaporated milk, and made into ice-cream. This was accompanied by fortune cookies and a fruit platter.

She was pitted against two other cooks who made Thai fish cakes with cucumber chilli jam, and little salmon cakes with cheese pumpkins roll.