Tuesday, 1st October, 2019
The National Chef of the Year and Young National Chef of the Year 2020
An impressive list of chefs has been whittled down from over 100 to just one as Steve Groves, head chef at Roux at Parliament Square was selected by the UK’s toughest culinary experts to take the title of The National Chef of the Year 2020. However, it was a closely fought battle with ten talented chefs aiming to take the top spot in a live two-hour cook-off at The Restaurant Show.
Taking the runner-up spot was Derek Johnstone, head chef from Borthwick Castle with Nick Smith, head chef at Vacherin placing in third.
Chefs had to create three courses in two hours and Steve served up a menu of red mullet, shellfish mousse and bouillabaisse sauce, followed by a main course of suckling pig, Jerusalem artichokes, quince, hazelnut and trompettes with Calvados Baba, honey poached pears and creme fraiche Chantilly for dessert. This year’s judges were led by Gary Jones, executive head chef at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons who had a team of 19 chefs helping him find the winner. The list included Sat Bains, Clare Smyth, David Mulcahy, Claude Bosi, Jonny Lake, Philip Howard, Ollie Dabbous, James Petrie and former winners Alyn Williams and Simon Hulstone.
Sustainability and seasonality were the key focus points of this year’s brief which was put together by Gary Jones and competition organiser, David Mulcahy. Finalists were tasked with creating a bouillabaisse style flavoured starter using under-utilised fish. For the main course, chefs had to use cuts of suckling pig with the opportunity to pre-cook one element of the pig prior to the competition, ensuring it did not amount to more than 20% of the final dish. Finally, the chefs were asked to create an elegant dessert honouring seasonal pears, which showcased technical skill, balance and maximum flavour impact.
Straight after scoring the dishes, Gary Jones said: “We’ve seen some amazing cooking today. What stood out for me about Steve was his good, strong, clean flavours. He didn’t over complicate his menu and approached the brief well resulting in beautiful flavours. When it came to the main course, he served-up the best crackling in the room and I was salivating just looking at it.”
Knowing he now holds the title of The National Chef of the Year, Steve Groves said: “I am delighted, relieved and surprised. It was hard work and those two hours went by in the blink of an eye but I focused on the flavours of the dish. I am incredibly pleased to win this title and I can’t wait to celebrate with my team, who I couldn’t have done this without.”
Vice-President of the Craft Guild of Chefs, David Mulcahy who has organises the competition added: “What an amazing final we’ve seen today! Firstly, congratulations to Steve Groves who has done an incredible job and now becomes a true ambassador for our industry. When you take this title, it’s about more than what you have cooked today as the chefs who have won previously are still some of the most talked about figures in hospitality. Each year, we make sure that the competition is truly relevant to today’s diners and is addressing industry trends whilst putting all our finalists firmly on the map. It’s known as the hardest culinary competition in the UK which is why this title is so sought-after and the one competition every chef wants to win.”
It’s not just the senior chefs who are in the spotlight today as a new Young National Chef of the Year has also been crowned. William Keeble who is demi chef de partie at Whatley Manor won the competition. In second place was Jordon Powell, chef de partie at South Lodge Hotel and George Harding, senior chef de partie, The Atlantic Hotel took the final place on the podium.
The ten finalists were tasked with creating two different vegetarian or vegan canapes for the starter and a Norwegian cod main course appropriately garnished and served with an emulsified hot, warm or cold sauce. Finally, they served up a plated dessert using a classic Victoria Sponge as a base.
Hrisikesh Desai took on the role of Chair of Judges for the YNCOTY competition earlier this year and alongside his team of ten judges, has truly found one to watch in William Keeble. Commenting on the level of cooking he’s seen today he said: “It wasn’t easy to decide the winner and it was extremely close, coming down to tiny details but I think we’ve got a fantastic winner. William balanced the flavour well and showed artistry in his work. He showcased a lot of skill elements that can be easy to mess up under pressure and on top of that his organisation was incredible. He was cool, calm and showed that he has practised and wanted to push himself to the absolute limit.”
Both of the winners have access to some amazing prizes following today’s success. Steve not only takes home the title but also wins:
- The National Chef of the Year winner’s medal.
- One-year’s membership to the Craft Guild of Chefs.
- Thanks to Knorr Professional and Unilever Food Solutions, the 2020 NCOTY winner will have the opportunity to create their own digital recipe book as well as receive a media training session up to the value of £7,500, in addition to opportunities to raise their profile working with Unilever Food Solutions.
- £1000 voucher to spend within the Lockharts’ range.
- A chef’s tour of Lebanon - the three top chefs will win a culinary trip to Lebanon. They’ll have the chance to explore the region’s exciting food, wine and restaurant culture and bring some inspiration back to their kitchens. From Beirut’s innovative street-food to outstanding wines from the Bekaa Valley, there’s a whole world of stunning cuisine to discover.
- Exclusively designed winner’s plate framed together with the winner’s medal as well as an additional prize of £500 worth of Churchill products.
- A bespoke Savernake knife to be made for the winner of The National Chef of the Year.
As the YNCOTY winner, William will enjoy:
- One year’s membership to the Craft Guild of Chefs.
- The 2019 YNCOTY winner will win the opportunity to grow professionally via a work development or trial session in a Michelin starred restaurant, valued at £2,500. In addition, they will promote this trial via an Instagram take-over and blog post with Knorr Professional and Unilever Food Solutions to further raise their profile.
- This year’s Young National Chef of the Year winner will join Michel Roux Jr for the culinary trip of a lifetime to Norway, in conjunction with Seafood from Norway. Over three exciting days in February 2020, they’ll celebrate the Skrei cod season (a seasonal Norwegian delicacy) at a beautiful fishing village with unrivalled local hospitality, plenty of fantastic food with fishing, hot tubs and hopefully sightings of the northern lights. On their return, the winner will have the opportunity to cook a signature Skrei menu at a high-level luncheon for press, chefs and industry members, hosted by the Norwegian Embassy and Michel Roux Jr.
- As well as a product prize of £250 and a framed presentation plate, Churchill will also be taking the winner to a European city for a Gastronomic Experience trip.
- A bespoke knife to be made for the winner of the Young National Chef of the Year.
Churchill ran its ‘People’s Choice’ prize to reward ‘Exceptional Presentation.’ The award was presented to Bethan Disley-Jones for her main course in YNCOTY after receiving the most votes on social media.
The competitions are run in partnership with KNORR and Lockhart Catering Equipment and are supported by British Premium Meats, CCS, Churchill, Direct Seafood, Evolve Recruitment, HIT Training, Mash, Norwegian Seafood, OpenTable, Ritter Courivaud, Santa Maria, Sousvide Tools, UNOX, Quorn and WearerTech.
Craft Guild of Chefs
The Craft Guild of Chefs is the largest UK chefs’ association with members worldwide in foodservice and hospitality, from students and trainees to top management working everywhere from Michelin starred restaurants to school catering divisions.
Meet the YNCOTY 2020 Finalists
Sion is currently working at Carden Park Hotel and Spa in Chester as the chef de partie and he is in charge of the larder section for the à la carte restaurant and the four banquet venues they have at the hotel.
Unlike many chefs, Sion did not go to college to do his training. Some of what he knows has been self-taught and the rest has come from working under Graham Tinsley, Harri Williams and Dion Jones over the past three years.
Sion actually left Carden Park last spring to go to Rogan and Co. in Cartmel but he felt it was too big a jump for him, so he returned to Carden Park to improve his skills with new chef, Harri Williams. Hopefully in the next few years he will work his way up to Michelin starred kitchens, when he feels more ready and confident in his cooking.
When asked what he loves most about being a chef, he said it’s that moment when you have prepared, made and served something special for a customer and they love it and give good feedback. It’s a feeling he doesn’t think you can top. He also loves the team at Carden Park and how when the going gets tough they all work together. They have a saying “one team, one dream.”
Sion has wanted to be a chef since he was about five or six years old after helping out in the kitchen at home. His favourite things to make as a child were pasta and a banana loaf for dessert.
When it comes to career influences, Sion has followed Gordon Ramsey from quite a young age. He loves the passion and pure talent of him and that inspires him to want to push himself. Whenever someone says to Sion “that’s perfect” his response is always “nothing’s ever perfect, there’s always room for improvement”.
The reason for Sion wanting todo competitions is not only to push himself and try to improve his skills but also to see what other people are doing. He feels it’s a good way to see what other chefs are up to and to network with people you otherwise wouldn’t get the chance to meet. He loves the feeling you get during and after a competition with a slight adrenaline rush. To be in the final of the Young National Chef of the Year (YNCOTY) means a lot to him and he is very grateful and fortunate to be in the position many young chefs only dream of. This makes all the long hours practicing and researching recipes and methods worthwhile.
Winning the YNCOTY competition would mean everything to him, so much so he just couldn’t put it into words! He will approach this final in the same way he does any other competition, with 100% focus and determination to find out what works and what doesn’t. Normally in a competition he will try to stay within his comfort zone and not try new things. However, to win YNCOTY he thinks he’s going to have to push himself even harder.
After training at University College Birmingham, Matt has worked at The Cross at Kenilworth, Simpsons Restaurant and Fishmore Hall in Ludlow before taking on his current role at Cheals of Henley where he is working as a sous chef. The thing he loves most about cooking is to be able to take an ingredient that isn’t of expense or popularity and to turn it into something that is delicious.
Matt has wanted to be a chef since he was 15 years old and believes his love of cooking with his grandmother from a young age is what influenced him into this career path. As a 16-year-old, he took a lot of inspiration through the books of David Everitt-Matthias who won the National Chef of the Year title in 1996. As Matt has grown older, he has taken his inspiration more from what’s going on around him, such as his own dining experiences or the changing seasons.
What Matt loves most about competing is how it gets you away from the day to day routine of being a chef. It gives you the ability to draw on all your skillsets, past and present and he believes pushing yourself out of your comfort zone makes you a stronger chef. Being in the final of YNCOTY is an incredible feeling for Matt although he admits, a very nerve racking one. It’s inspiring for him to know this competition can help put your cooking infront of some of the industry’s biggest legends.
Winning this competition would be a huge achievement for him and is something he has aspired to achieve since he first heard about it as a young college student.
Preparation for this competition will be the make or break for Matt. He has competed in the British Culinary Federation Young Chef competition and also supported Adam Bennett during the 2015 Bocuse d’Or and this taught him that preparation is key. Once his dishes are planned, he will be using his days off to do full run throughs and taste testing to make sure he is happy with timings and the overall dishes.
George is currently working at The Atlantic Hotel in Jersey as a senior chef de partie. He trained at Pembrokeshire College in South West Wales, where he completed his three-year professional cookery course. After leaving college, he worked for Will Holland at the Coast Restaurant in Saundersfoot before taking a placement at Le Manoir for three months. He then returned to work at Coast for a further 18 months. His next move was to Bristol where he worked at Wilks restaurant for chef, James Wilkins before going back to work for Will after he had moved to Jersey.
George loves the challenges which working in a kitchen brings. He admits he would be lost without the kitchen structure and organisation that lies within it. However, his main reason for being a chef is making the customers that come to the restaurant happy with the food he creates. He loves helping make the memories that being around a dining table generates.
Being a chef is all he has ever wanted to do. After he finished school, his brother was doing his level two cookery at Pembrokeshire College, so George went in for some open days and loved it too.
Chef Will Holland has played a massive part in his cooking career, helping him develop his skills and giving him the drive and confidence to go off into other kitchens and hold his own. Will was the one that introduced George to competitions when he was competing in National Chef of the Year. Plus, the time at Le Manoir and the love and passion that goes into the food there really opened George’s eyes and showed him the style of food he wanted to make. With chef James Wilkins he learnt a lot about new ingredients and working in a Michelin starred restaurant inspired him.
George thrives on the pressure of having to get something prepared, cooked and plated in a certain time and then the relief of completing. The adrenaline rush at the halfway point in the semi-finals was a great boost and he can see why people get hooked on doing competitions. He also loves meeting all the other chefs that he’s competing against as well as the chefs judging.
He still feels shocked to have made the final as it doesn’t feel real. Winning would mean everything to him and he knows what a massive achievement it will be for both him and everyone who has supported him. When it comes to the day, he is just going to go and give it everything he has got and is taking this time to just think about the way he works and how to organise everything for the final. This is something the judges told him in the semi-finals he needed to improve on, so he’s taken their advice on board. Once he has the brief it’s going to be head down and serious planning for the dishes to take to the final in October.
Young National Chef of the Year finalist, Jordon Powell is currently working at Tom Kemble at the Pass Restaurant in Horsham as a chef de partie. He was trained on the job at South Lodge Hotel and also took on a part-time course at Westminster Kingsway College for two years. He has worked at many other places around Sussex but most of his time has been spent at South Lodge Hotel working in the various departments.
What he loves most about being a chef is the constant learning and that no day is ever boring.When he was younger, Jordon always wanted to run his own business then growing up he discovered his passion for cooking so getting into the hospitality industry just felt a perfect fit.
When it comes to competing, Jordon loves how you get to test your skills against other chefs your age, as well as the networking opportunities it provides.
Being a finalist in Young National Chef of the Year is an amazing feeling for Jordon who has worked so hard to get to this level and have the chance to compete. He is very excited for the final and winning would mean a lot to him. He has followed the competition for many years now and has always wanted to compete in the event and take home the title. He’ll be preparing over the coming weeks by staying behind the stove and working hard as soon as he gets the brief.
Gercelynn Mae Dionio
Gercelynn Mae Dionio is currently a chef de partie at Restaurant Hywel Jones at Lucknam Park. Fresh out of college she went straight to Lucknam Park and she has been working there for the last four years.
She loves learning about different kinds of food, techniques and gaining another family in the kitchen team. Hywel Jones is her biggest inspiration and he has already played such a huge part in her career. She is most looking forward to competing in Young National Chef of the Year to be able to challenge herself as well as meet other competitors. When her name was called out as a finalist, she really didn’t expect it and was so shocked, overwhelmed and grateful.
To take home the title would be a massive achievement for her as she recognises how huge this competition is. She’s going to be spending the coming weeks working hard to practise and will be giving it her all using everything she has learnt from Hywel Jones and the rest of the Lucknam Park team.
Bethan is currently working at The Art School restaurant in Liverpool as an apprentice pastry chef. She is also studying for the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts Chefs’ Apprenticeship at the City of Liverpool College. The Arts School is herfirst full-time job since leaving school, although while studying for her GCSEs she worked on match days at Everton Football Club with her FutureChef mentor, Gareth Billington.
The reason she loves being a chef is it allows you to be creative. Pastry is what she is most passionate about and she’s lucky to work on that every day. She also loves that being a chef creates opportunities to work anywhere in the world.
Whilst Bethan didn’t really know what she wanted to do when she was growing up, she chose Food Tech as a GCSE and her teacher encouraged her to enter the FutureChef competition, which she was lucky enough to win. This gave her lots of opportunities like work experience at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons. It was such a wonderful experience that she knew this was the career that she wanted to do.
During her career so far, Bethan has met so many inspirational people who have all been encouraging and offered their support. Particularly inspiring is her boss, Paul Askew who has given up so much of his time to get her career started.
Bethan believes the best thing about competing is that you get to create your own dishes and try them on such well-respected judges. She has learned so much from entering competitions as you get to learn new techniques and skills. Competitions really test her and push her to put herself out there and become a better chef. She’s very excited about making the final and it wasn’t something she expected to be able to do as it’s such a big achievement. Whilst she admits she hasn’t really thought about winning she knows to take the title would be amazing. She will be trying to improve her skills in all areas as its mainly pastry she focuses on in her job so there will be plenty of practising over the next few weeks.
The Young National Chef of the Year finalist, William Keeble completed two years of culinary training at Farnborough Technology College before taking on a role at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. He is currently working at Whatley Manor as a demi chef de partie.
William loves being a chef because he enjoys working as part of a team in which everyone strives towards one goal. He grew up watching a lot of food programmes on TV and believes these inspired him from a young age to become a chef. Growing up it was all he wanted to do.
For William, Raymond Blanc is a big inspiration and he watched a lot of his programmes when he was younger. Having the chance to work for him for three years showed him just how passionate he is about the industry, which is something that William admires greatly.
With just a few weeks until the final of YNCOTY, William admits he likes the pressure of competing and believes it’s a good test to see where you are compared to other chefs of a similar age.Being a finalist is definitely a goal he can now tick off his list and it was an honour for him to be invited to compete in the semis. To make it through to the final is a massive achievement for him.
Whilst for William, winning would be surreal it would mean all the hard work he has put in over recent years has paid off. He will be preparing for the final by doing as many run-throughs of his dishes as possible. This way when it comes to the big day, he can just focus on what he needs to do to impress those judges.
Sam is currently working as a senior sous at ‘Crwst’, which is a small restaurant located in Cardigan, West Wales. His culinary career started as a trainee at a restaurant called Hammet House. He then went to Pembrokeshire College and trained for three years, walking out with a Level 3 qualification. Sam then joined Wordskills UK and received some of the best training in the country, training at James Sommerin, Gidleigh Park, Launceston Place and the House of Commons and he had one-to-one training with Heston Blumenthal’s sous chef.
One of the things Sam loves most about being a chef is the long hours as he loves working to his full potential and trying to push himself every single day. Sam has always wanted to be a chef for as long as he can remember, he even asked for a food processor for his 12thbirthday. That’s where it all started. He’s inspired everyday by different things, but the biggest inspiration so far is probably his mum and nan. They have always been good cooks and from a young age he would love to help them in the kitchen.
When it comes to competing, Sam thrives on the buzz of the event. As soon as the timer starts, he gets in the zone and there is no better feeling than being fully focused with the adrenaline pumping. For Sam, competing in Young National Chef of the Year is a great honour. He has trained for competitions for the last three and a half years so to be a finalist in one of the biggest competitions in the country is a massive achievement, and he is really excited to be taking part.
Winning would mean so much to him, having spent years training in competition environments and he would love for all that experience to pay off and try and put Cardigan on the map. Sam will prepare for the final like he does most of his competitions. He’s hoping to practise hard and try and get as much flavour into the dishes as he can, work on his presentation and just enjoy the experience.
Meet the NCOTY 2020 Finalists
Nick started cooking at the age of 15 in a local pub and then went on to Aylesbury College to do his NVQ 2. Whilst studying, he was also a kitchen porter and trainee chef at The Sir Charles Napier restaurant. On completing his NVQ, he took a three-year apprenticeship at Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons with mentoring from Raymond Blanc and Gary Jones.
After completing this apprenticeship, Nick was promoted to demi chef de partie, a position he held for a further 18 months. In 2005, he was lucky enough to win the William Heptinstall Award 2005 and used the prize money to travel and stage around the USA. It was an incredible experience with Nick spending time at WD50 in Manhattan and Charlie Trotters, TRU and Alinea in Chicago. On his return to the UK, he worked at Michelin starred restaurant, Juniper in Manchester as a junior sous chef. Eighteen months later he worked with Adam Simmonds at Danesfield House before returning to Le Manoir as a junior sous chef. The role of head chef was given to him in 2012.
Nick made a bold move to the North in 2015, leaving Le Manoir to take on the position of head chef at The Samling restaurant in Cumbria. Within nine months of being there, the restaurant won a Michelin star and 3 AA rosettes and Nick received Cumbria Life Chef of the Year Award in 2017. His current role is at The Ryebeck Hotel in Windermere where he is head chef.
What Nick loves most about being a chef is the fact he can work hard and push himself every single day. Whenever he leaves work, he has a real sense of achievement, whether that’s through creating a new dish, guest comments or developing the next generation of chefs. He loves the freedom he has and the ability to express his personality on a plate.
Nick wanted to be a chef from the age of four. His dad was a baker by trade and so Nick would love watching him working and sampling the delicious things he would create. When Nick was about 10 years old, he loved watching CHEF by Lenny Henry. This really inspired him to work at a beautiful restaurant, cooking delicious and stunning food like it was portrayed in the TV show.
Whilst his dad massively influenced his decision to become a chef, Nick says the most inspirational influence in his career, without a shadow of a doubt, is Gary Jones. From day one walking in to Le Manoir, at the age of 17, he helped develop Nick and pushed him to be the best he can be as a chef and a person. Nick told us: “Gary has always been there as a mentor and a father figure. Even four years after last working under him, he still inspires me and every time I create a dish or talk to a junior member of the team, I think back to what was said to me or what he would say if he was stood next to me now.”
The most memorable day of Nick’s career was when he received a phone call from Rebecca Burr at Michelin inviting him down to London for the first ever live unveiling of the Michelin guide. It was a great personal achievement not only for him but also the team that had worked through some long, tough days to achieve what they did in such a short time. On the same day, Nick found out that one of his chefs had just been offered a job at Restaurant Sat Bains, which for him was a very proud moment. Nick said: “She had joined me just nine months earlier having worked at a Best Western hotel cooking scampi in a basket and now she had been offered a job under one of the best chefs in the UK. As any head chef will tell you, that’s as good a feeling as winning any accolade.”
Nick entered The National Chef of the Year this year because a couple of months earlier he was helping mentor his sous chef through the North West Young Chef of the Year competition. They were doing lots of late nights practicing and Nick was pushing him very hard to ensure he would do his best. One night the young chef turned around and said that Nick should practice what he was preaching and enter NCOTY, so he did. Nick also feels he has a little unfinished business with the competition, having made the final in 2014 and coming third. Nick felt that this year the time was right to push himself again.
When Nick found out he had made the final, he was having dinner with his family in Paul Ainsworth’s new restaurant in Cornwall, The Mariners. Nick knew there was going to be a Twitter announcement and he had a lovely surprise and huge feeling of relief when he saw the tweet with his name on. He got straight on the phone to his sous chef to break the good news to everyone at the hotel.
Thinking about taking the title, Nick commented: “Winning would be a fantastic achievement. I’ve achieved a lot in my career but to add the title would be another great accolade for both me personally and the team at the hotel. To succeed as a chef, it’s been all about sacrifice at an early age. I’m so glad I worked hard when I was younger, when I had the energy and ability to absorb knowledge like a sponge. Now it’s about finding challenges to keep being a chef as interesting and as exciting as I did the day, I first picked up a knife. This is a hard challenge but surrounding myself with young, hungry, talented chefs really helps.”
The three words that describe his style of cooking are flavour, texture and acidity.
Mehdi started his apprenticeship when he was 15 years old in Marseille, France where he was born. He was working in a very small restaurant but wanted to go and learn about fine dining so moved to a restaurant called L’Abbaye De Sainte Croix in Salon de Provence. This is where he truly learned everything about what it was like to be a chef. It set the foundation and gave him a basis of how to do things right, so this place always felt like home.
After a while, Mehdi wanted to see something different, so he went to Alsace to learn another way of cooking and expand his knowledge. Two years later he came to England and started working at Cliveden House Hotel. He met some great people there and it enabled him to get to know more about English cooking. After an 18-month stint, he worked in various London restaurants before going back to France to work at the Jiva Hill Relais & Chateaux near Geneva. This was one of the greatest places he had the chance to work in. His next move was to Switzerland, but he always had this idea of coming back to England. Mehdi was waiting for the right occasion so when he was given the opportunity to work for Adam Smith at Coworth Park it just felt right. Mehdi was inspired by Adam’s cooking, what he’s achieved in his career and the way he was doing things on a different level.
Mehdi loves being a chef as the job provides so many different possibilities and opportunities. He told us: “You are never bored, you’re always doing something new, always pushing yourself to do better and every day is different from the day before. That is what makes it so interesting.”
Even as a child, Mehdi knew he wanted to be a chef as he came from a family with great home cooks. All the women in his family cooked a lot, especially his mum and grandmother. They would always have a big family dinner on Sunday where everyone would help cooking. It’s always been a big part of his life.
Mehdi says everywhere he has worked so far has taught him something and made him the chef he is today; from the first bistro in Marseille where he learned basic cooking skills to Coworth Park today. If there was one chef he had to choose as his main influence, it would be Jéremy Picanol at L’Abbaye de Sainte-Croix who really put him on the right path.
His incentive to enter The National Chef of the Year was to prove to himself that he could still do it commenting: “You always wonder if people are going to like your cooking, you never know how it’s going to go or if what you present is going to be good enough so I thought this was a good opportunity to see where I was standing.”
When he heard his name called out, he admits he was surprised as he never expected it. Even if you are happy with the dishes, it doesn’t mean the judges will like them. He is so grateful to the chefs at Coworth Park who supported him and his fiancé Laetitia.
Winning would mean everything to Mehdi and prove that no matter where you come from or where you’ve worked, you can still achieve whatever you want to do. He believes to succeed as a chef you have to love what you’re doing and have the passion as well as a will to succeed.
The three words Mehdi would use to describe his cooking are eclectic, flavoursome and complexity.
Derek started cooking at 16 years old after enrolling in a general catering course at Glasgow’s College of Food Technology. In 2008, he became the inaugural BBC MasterChef The Professionals winner which gave him the opportunity to work at Le Gavroche in London under the guidance of Michel Roux Jnr. He continued to work for the Roux family for six years. During this time, he carried out work placements in other Michelin starred restaurants including De Karmeliet, the 3 Michelin star restaurant in Belgium. In 2017, he accepted the position of head chef at Borthwick Castle, a 5-star exclusive hire venue near Edinburgh.
Derek just loves being around food and other people who are equally passionate about it. He looks forward to the change in the seasons when they get to reinvent their dishes and recipes year after year. He also really enjoys developing young chefs, helping them improve and guiding them through their own careers.
For aslong as he can remember, Derek has always wanted to be a chef. As a young boy, he loved watching programmes like Ready Steady Cook and MasterChef and he never thought of doing anything else.
Working for both Michel Roux Jnr and Albert Roux OBE was hugely inspirational for Derek and he learnt and developed enormously during his six years working for them both. He told us: “The most memorable day I have had at work was when I returned from London after winning MasterChef The Professionals and my executive chef and the whole team where waiting for me to arrive back. The support and guidance they gave me will be something I will remember forever.” Derek entered the competition last year as he felt it was the correct time in his career to put himself forward for such a prestigious competition. Finishing third gave him even more motivation and confidence to return and compete once again.
It would mean a lot to him to win this competition. It is such a tough competition to succeed in and he would be honoured for his cooking to be recognised by such a highly regarded panel of chefs. To succeed as a chef, Derek believes you need perseverance, talent, hard work and commitment. The three words that most describe his style of cooking are delicious, simplistic and dynamic.
Marc’s career started at aged 15 with an apprenticeship at a well-respected hotel in Warwickshire under the watchful eyes of Adam Bennett, who is now chef director of the Michelin starred 'The Cross' in Kenilworth. This apprenticeship ran alongside attending North Warwickshire College. After a two-year apprenticeship, Marc decided to work in the Cotswolds. Country house fine dining was still a popular scene back in the ‘90s and this apprenticeship foundation gave him a solid platform to work from and held him in good stead.
Marc worked at various hotels and restaurants before deciding to focus his attention on cooking as a restaurant chef. A reunion with Adam followed and the chance to work for the much-celebrated, Andreas Antona.
Over the last few years, Marc has worked at a variety of venues but is now based at a 17th century stately home called Prestwold Hall, working for Maverick venues. The ethos of the company is to produce high class food and service to clients in exclusive venues. They are a fantastic company to work for with great values and ethics. It has a real family feel and he loves the people he works with.
The thing Marc loves most about being a chef is the cooking and handling of great produce. He feels it’s also one of the few crafts where you get to see the whole process from start to finish. He commented: “Within our industry it’s always the people who make it what it is. I've worked with some real colourful characters.”Looking back, Marc admits he didn’t always want to be a chef. As a young boy he would have loved to have been a striker for Coventry City FC. However, his school home economics teacher, Mrs Tomlinson, set him on a path from which he’s never looked back. There have been many people that have inspired Marc at different stages throughout his career. From celebrated chefs like Anton Mossiman, who in Marc’s opinion was a chef ahead of his time and Marco Pierre White who he describes as pure rock and roll, through to employers, colleagues and family members, like his grandma. These days his inspiration is his wife and children.Marc describes the most memorable day at work as his first day as a head chef, as he said it is what all chefs aim for. He commented: “I entered National Chef of the Year for various reasons. Not for gains or glory, though I would dearly love to take Kuba’s crown, but more of a mountain that I felt was worth climbing. Hearing my name called out as a finalist was bonkers. There was so much talent on display in that semi-final day in Sheffield that I wasn't sure of my chances. So, to hear those words was sweet music. Only the best get to know what winning NCOTY feels like and I am up against nine hugely talented craftsmen. I am going to have to use everything I've got and then some if I am to triumph.”
Marc believes that to be a successful chef it requires a holy devotion and an almost single- minded approach to master your craft. If he had to describe his style of cooking in three words it would be seasonal, considered and diverse.
Nick started his culinary career at Southend College where he focused on learning and absorbing everything and disliking nothing, achieving his City & Guilds qualifications.
His professional journey started with him working in London at Le Pont de la Tour, The Arts Club Dover St and Chinon, all of which provided him with fantastic training opportunities and learning platforms. Nick had a colleague who was working in private dining and he decided to take a step into this. He first began working at Credit Suisse, then onto Imagination and finally into Ashurst, at the London Fruit & Wool Exchange just outside the famous Spitalfields Market in the heart of E1. Here they craft all the fine dining and hospitality for Ashurst partners and clients, so it is a very diverse, constantly changing and dynamic place to work.
As a chef, Nick loves the accomplishment of crafting something in its beautiful raw form, using all his skill, knowledge, love, passion, respect and pure desire, into a brilliant work of art for others to enjoy. That for him is what brings and drives him to truly love what he does. He feels the rewards are more than worth the hard work you commit to.
Growing up, Nick never really had any idea what he wanted to do, but luckily for him just at the point he was finishing school, his dad who had been a chef a long time ago, wanted to attend an evening cookery course to broaden his knowledge. Nick went along with him and by the end of the induction he was hooked. His dad inspired him with his experiences, and Nick was excited and driven to pursue this career even more. Thankfully, he’s never looked back.
As well as his dad, Nick’s inspiration has come from all the passionate individuals that he’s had the opportunity to work alongside. He’s also inspired by the amazing cooking books he has collected in the past, from some of the best chefs in the world as well as the restaurants he’s been lucky enough to dine at.
There have been so many memorable days that Nick has experienced in the kitchen, but one that stands out for him was when he was given the position of sous chef. He stepped into the kitchen with nerves, excitement and a desire to prove to himself that he could step up to the challenge. It was a completely different mindset, with more responsibility and leading the brigade from the front. He learnt a lot from this which has been invaluable for his career.
When it comes to The National Chef of the Year, Nick is chasing a dream and setting himself up for the biggest challenge of his life, building the confidence to show his abilities to a Goliath audience. He said: “I have come to learn so much from NCOTY, that it is not just a competition, it is a growth of learning, raw commitment, pushing yourself and inspiring others. Taking the knocks and getting back up from them and being a better chef for it. This is a competition of a lifetime, the chance to be a part of something special and something that can’t be missed.That moment when you hear your name called out is unforgettable. Every chef in that room is waiting and praying to hear their name called out alongside their commis, who has equally shared that anticipation and sacrifice to get to that stage. Knowing how much time and effort has been spent honing and practicing those dishes to get accepted in that final 10, is something that is exhilarating and scary all at the same time.”
Nick feels that to win this competition, goes beyond the final day on the 1stOctober 2019, it’s about the legacy it leaves and how you support the industry. He’s watched, listened and learnt from this to understand the expectation of being granted such a title. It is a huge responsibility to take and to become the next National Chef of the Year would be a monumental dream for him and for all that he has shared this journey with.
To succeed as a chef Nick believes it takes a huge amount of belief and a real desire to love, understand and immerse yourself into this amazing craft. Chefs should be adaptable, always cook from their heart and accept it is a continuous education for yourself and others throughout your chosen career.
The three words Nick would use to describe his style of cooking are fervour, adroit and considered.
Steve has worked at Roux at Parliament Square for the past nine years, as sous chef for the first three years and head chef for the other six. Before this he was at Launceston Place for three years. He loves working as part of a team to deliver the best experience possible for all guests and particularly enjoys the creative side of the job and seeing young chefs come through his kitchen and helping them to develop.
When he was younger, Steve wanted to be a firefighter. However, he went to catering college as something to fall back on if the firefighting didn’t work out! He found he loved catering college and decided to pursue this as a career. It hasn’t all been plain sailing, however, and there was a time about 14 years ago when he was set on leaving the industry to join the police or fire brigade. Instead, he moved to London to test himself at a higher level.
When it comes to who has inspired him, Michel and Albert Roux are a great source of inspiration and having the chance to work with them has been incredible for Steve. The Roux history, knowledge and dedication to constantly evolve is always inspirational.
His most memorable working day was his first day as head chef at Parliament Square as he saw it as a huge privilege to have this role and lead such a great team. Steve has intended to enter The National Chef of the Year competition for the last few years but never managed to make the time to enter. He only made it this year because the deadline was extended! He had told himself that he had to make the time to do it and prepare properly telling us: “It’s a great competition and you only have to look at the past winners to see the quality of chefs that enter. When I made the final, I felt mostly relief! I was happy after the cook-off but almost straight away a bit of doubt started to creep in, then by the time it was announced I had no idea whether I’d done enough. I didn’t really see what anyone else had done as I was just focussed on my dishes. To win NCOTY would be incredible, it would be a very proud moment and to have closer ties with the Craft Guild of Chefs and help develop the next generation of chefs coming through would be great.”Steve believes that for a chef to succeed it takes hard work, dedication and the ability to listen and adapt. For him, there is no substitute for having a solid grasp of the classics as that foundation gives a chef the tools to go off and create with modern tastes in mind.
The three words that Steve would use to describe his cooking style are flavourful, classical and simple.
Harry’s culinary career began when he started washing pots and pans at the age of 16, before being inspired by the head chef of his local village pub, Matthew Roberts, to pursue a career in cooking. He got an apprenticeship with the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts where he did two and a half years at Claridge’s Hotel, London as an apprentice and then a further two and a half years after graduating with distinction. After that he worked for a year at Eleven Madison Park, New York, which was voted the top restaurant in the world at the time. He joined Trinity Restaurant in Clapham a year and a half ago.
The thing that Harry loves most about being a chef is making people happy through food, seeing the reaction on someone’s face and knowing you’ve made an impression on them. However, he didn’t always want to be a chef and isn’t sure what he did want to be when he was growing up, but he couldn’t be happier with how things have worked out. Harry has cooked alongside so many amazing individuals and is grateful for everything he has been taught. When thinking about his most memorable day at work, there’s been a few, but working at a restaurant which was then voted number one in the world was up there.
Harry entered The National Chef of the Year because he really wanted the challenge of pushing himself in a new environment, under different pressures that he’s not used to. He’s extremely proud and excited to push on in the final. He told us: “To win a competition of this level would mean the world and certainly would be career changing.”
When thinking about what chefs need to be successful, Harry feels it is graft, patience and professionalism. The three words he would use about his style of cooking are honest, seasonal and identity.
Ben started working in kitchens even before he left school, working at a local 2 rosette hotel on weekends and an amazing butcher in Hampton Court. The moment he finished school he was offered a full-time job and an apprenticeship placement. After this, he went to work for the Gordon Ramsay Group at Petrus and was part of the opening team at Claridge’s Hotel. Ben then worked at a restaurant called McClements in Twickenham before moving on to work for Eric Chavot at 2* Capital Hotel. He was also part of the opening team at Galvin at Windows with André Garrett, Chris Galvin and Bryn Williams. His next move was to work for Shay Cooper at the 1* Bingham in Richmond leaving there as sous chef to go The Goring Hotel. He was head chef when it was awarded 1 Michelin star, a time which he describes as his most memorable working day.
Ben is currently working as head chef of the Zetter Group, looking after the food offering for the three properties in the collection. The diversity of each day has to be one of the best things about being a chef for Ben. From creating dishes, sourcing the best ingredients, discovering new techniques, training, mentoring and developing a team, but ultimately doing something that he loves. He wanted to be a chef for as long as he can remember. Ben credits his parents for being the greatest inspiration for his working life because without instilling their work ethic and discipline he would not have had the foundation to do what he currently does. The National Chef of the Year competition is something which Ben has always wanted to do but for one reason or another never entered. This year he felt ready to compete. When his name was called out as a finalist, Ben said it was an amazing feeling and still hasn’t truly sunk in. Winning would be an incredible achievement and without doubt, a career defining moment for him. Ben says to succeed in this industry you need to have tenacity, determination, focus, discipline, work ethic and passion. The three phrases he would use to describe his cooking style are ingredient-led, seasonal and classic-based.
After years of travelling, Fraser returned to the UK to be formally trained at Leith’s School of Food and Wine. Following stages at Racine in Knightsbridge with Henry Harris and Rick Steins’ Seafood Restaurant in Padstow, Fraser fell in love with Cornwall. He worked summer seasons in the well-known Porthmeor Café, in St Ives, and then in a high-end chalet throughout the winter. Now, he is running a country dining pub in St Ives in Cornwall named The Halsetown Inn. It’s located in a beautiful area, abundant with amazingproduce and they try to use the best locally sourced and seasonal ingredients to create a modern British menu.
Fraser says it takes a lot of personal sacrifice to be a chef, with the long and unsociable hours so you need to have a love for it; the whole kitchen environment, the ups, the downs, the good services, the bad ones. He added: “It’s stressful but I couldn’t ever imagine getting up and going to work in an office, for example. You meet some crazy people working in this trade but end up loving them, I think it’s quite unique in that way.”Growing up, Fraser never thought he would be a chef, but he has always had an interest in food. His mother was a great cook when he was growing up and she introduced him to different cuisines. As a child, Fraser played football for a couple of professional clubs so that was where he thought he would end up. Then he moved away and fell in love with surfing, which pretty much shaped his whole life in terms of where he wanted to live. He fell into the industry whilst travelling as he saw it as a way to fund his life at the time.Adam Handling has always been a chef which Fraser has looked up to and would love to work with, as his style of cooking is how he likes to cook. In his career, Cameron Jennings of the Porthmeor Café in St Ives has been the most important and influential person, without a doubt. Cameron has taught Fraser so much about working in this industry, work ethic and management. They are still good friends and he can rely on him for advice and help at any time whether it’s work related or not. Fraser entered the competition last year and made it through to the semi-finals which coincided with the due date of his first child. It was a time in his life where all the focus should have been on his partner and she should have been relaxing, but instead she devoted all her energy to help him compete, right down to even being his kitchen porter as he practiced when she was nine months pregnant! They packed the van ready for every eventuality to drive to London in case she went into labour, even looking at what hospitals were near to Le Cordon Bleu where the semi-final was held. It’s something that Fraser won’t forget.Entering last year and reaching the semi-finals was a massive achievement but Fraser was gutted not to progress. His interview with Gary Jones after his heat gave him real confidence and assurance in what he’s doing professionally, even though he didn’t reach the final. Having had the opportunity to cook for some of the best in the industry, it truly inspired him to push himself and enter again. Fraser feels there is no better way to receive constructive criticism than from a group of Michelin-starred chefs.Fraser was shocked to make the final this year as he didn’t expect it. He had made a couple of mistakes and hoped he might have still scraped through as a high scorer but to actually win his heat made him very happy. He commented: “To win National Chef of the Year would be amazing. However, to simply be cooking at this level both for the judges and alongside some well-respected chefs I’m already happy. I’m just going to enjoy the experience and see what comes from it.”
To succeed as a chef, Fraser feels you must be dedicated as it takes time to learn not just how to cook but how to run a kitchen. Managing people and a team becomes just as important as the food you want to produce.Local, seasonal and sustainable are the three words that Fraser would use to describe his style of cooking.
Karl O’Dell started working as a commis chef at Colette’s at The Grove where he stayed for six years working his way up to junior sous chef. His next career move was to The Artichoke as sous chef before he moved to Petrus as senior sous chef. He is currently working at Texture where he is head chef.
The element of his role that he loves most is the absolute freedom to be creative. However, being a chef wasn’t something that Karl had always wanted to do as in his school days he dreamed of a career in sport.
When thinking about the chefs who have inspired him the most, he says it’s Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White who have influenced his culinary career.
To succeed in both the competition and in your role as a chef Karl believes that you need commitment, drive and passion. If he was to win The National Chef of the Year, it would be his greatest career achievement to date, and he felt very relieved to hear his name called out as one of the ten finalists. He’s delighted to still be in with a chance of taking the title. He entered this year as he really enjoys the whole experience having already made the final a few years ago.
The three words that Karl would use to describe his style of cooking are light, creative and sharp.
Tuesday 18th June 2019
For immediate release
Finalists revealed for The National Chef of the Year 2020
After an incredible and closely fought four rounds of heats, the finalists in the running to be crowned The National Chef of the Year 2020 winner have been announced by the Craft Guild of Chefs.
Wowing the judges in the first heat which took place at Sheffield College on Tuesday 11th June was Marc Billings, sous chef at Prestwold Hall. The heat winners from London were Fraser Bruce, head chef at The Halsetown Inn, Mehdi Lahmadi, junior sous chef at Coworth Park Hotel and Steve Groves, head chef from Roux at Parliament Square
Some of the most well-respected culinary talent in the UK selected the final six places by discovering who had the highest scores across all four heats. At this evening’s award announcement these spots were given to: -
- Nick Edgar, head chef at The Ryebeck Hotel
- Derek Johnstone, head chef at Borthwick Castle
- Ben Boeynaems, head chef at The Zetter Hotel
- Harry Kirkpatrick, sous chef, Trinity Restaurant
- Karl O’Dell, head chef at Texture London
- Nick Smith, head chef at Vacherin
Chair of judges, Gary Jones, executive chef from Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons said: “We’ve seen some really innovative dishes this year and a huge variety in the methods and styles of cooking. I think one of the main reasons for this is the tweak we made to the brief where one element could be cooked in advance. Chefs have truly risen to this challenge, with some incredible flavours being served, as it’s a more familiar way of cooking for them. For the ten finalists, my advice is don’t waste this opportunity, put everything you’ve got into it as only one chef will walk away as the winner. The final will be a huge learning curve in each chef’s personal development and I wish them all the best of luck.”
Organiser of the competition and Vice-President of the Craft Guild of Chefs, David Mulcahy added: “With just over one hundred entries in this year’s competition it’s exciting for us to discover the new top ten in the running for the 2020 title. We’ve also got ten talented chefs lined up to be pushed into the limelight in the young chef competition having earned their place either through a heat or by being a leading competition winner. As the biggest culinary challenge in the UK, these competitions continue to go from strength to strength providing new and exciting opportunities. Those who follow Kuba Winkowski will have seen the incredible year he is having as the title holder. This year’s finalists will have to impress an inspiring list of judges including Clare Smyth, Jonny Lake, Claude Bosi, Philip Howard and Chantelle Nicholson.”
For 2019, the Young Chef of the Year has a new Chair of judges, with Hrishikesh Desai taking the lead. Over the last week, the competition has confirmed six more finalists with Jordon Powell being the first to earn a spot at The Restaurant Show when he won his heat in Sheffield. George Harding, senior chef de partie at The Atlantic Hotel was the heat winner at Le Cordon Bleu today. The remaining final spots were given to Bethan Disley-Jones, apprentice pastry chef, The Art School Liverpool, Gercelynn Mae Dionio, demi chef de partie at Lucknam Park Hotel & Spa, Sion Hughes, chef de partie at Carden Park Hotel & Spa and William Keeble, demi chef de partie from Whatley Manor. Four chefs have already been seeded straight to the final by winning some of the UK’s top titles including Ben Cowley who was the Graduate Awards Highest Achiever, Matthew Nicholls who won The British Culinary Federation Chef of the Year and Sam Everton representing World Skills. The final place will be the winner of the Academy of Culinary Arts Awards of Excellence which will be announced in July.
After today’s announcement, Hrishikesh Desai, executive chef at The Gilpin Hotel and Lake House said: “I was honoured to be asked to take on this role and have thoroughly enjoyed judging these two young chef heats. Having previously competed in and won The National Chef of the Year, I understand how the chefs feel and I think they have done a fantastic job in new environments, working well under pressure. It’s important that senior chefs support competitions like this to help inspire the next generation to improve their skills and push true talent into the spotlight.”
The competitions are run in partnership with KNORR and Lockhart Catering Equipment and are supported by British Premium Meats, CCS, Churchill, Direct Seafood, Evolve Recruitment, HIT Training, Mash, Norwegian Seafood, OpenTable, Ritter Courivaud, Santa Maria, Sousvide Tools, UNOX, Quorn and WearerTech. Both finals will take place at The Restaurant Show on Tuesday 1st October in front of a live audience. Chefs will discover the brief at a mentor day on Tuesday 10th September.
Craft Guild of Chefs
The Craft Guild of Chefs is the largest UK chefs’ association with members worldwide in foodservice and hospitality, from students and trainees to top management working everywhere from Michelin starred restaurants to school catering divisions.