The revised National Chef of the Year process for 2020

The National Chef of the Year has almost a 50-year history with an incredible list of former winners and finalists. The Craft Guild of Chefs is proud of its heritage and the positivity it brings to the hospitality industry every single year. Despite the unprecedented times, we have seen so much support for the competition, with chefs still keen to enter, despite facing uncertainty around their daily lives. The Guild has heard stories about the menu planning stage providing inspiration and hope to chefs and their teams which has made us even more determined to ensure that the competition goes ahead.

Whilst finding ten talented NCOTY finalists is our absolute priority, we recognise this won’t be able to happen in the same way it usually does. With so much uncertainty around the length of the national lockdown and colleges, restaurants and workplaces being closed, the organisers of NCOTY have had to change how we whittle down the chefs from the entry drive to 40 semi-finalists and then to the final ten. Ultimately, we want to ensure every chef has a fair opportunity to take one of the ten places at the final and that the industry really has something to celebrate later this year. Whilst many chefs aren’t currently able to work, we want to help them use the coming months to learn and be inspired by other chefs, suppliers, judges and industry leaders. This allows them to be more ready than ever to get back to business and take their careers to the next level as soon they can.

So, this year, NCOTY isn’t just about winning a title, it’s about the Craft Guild inspiring chefs and giving them hope, strength and positivity during the most challenging time of their careers.

What’s the closing date for online entries?
To allow chefs the most opportunity to enter this year, the deadline has been extended until the 15th June. This gives people more time to complete their menus as ingredients become more accessible and allows chefs enough time to practise and adapt their menus during these challenging times.

How will the competition run this year?
The semi-final cook offs cannot take place this year due to the current situation and uncertainty on when social distancing will end. In addition, colleges are unlikely to be open to facilitate any cook-offs until Autumn. Therefore, once paper judging is complete, the 40 highest scoring entries will go through to a new 2nd stage, the successful ten will go through to the Mentor Day on 11th August, with the final being filmed on the 7th September at Le Cordon Bleu to then be watched by all within the newly formed virtual concept, Hospitality Week, on 30th September. The following activity will take place:-

  1. All chefs who enter online will be whittled down to 40 in the normal way with the panel of judges scoring each dish anonymously based on the online entry form.
  2. 40 shortlisted chefs will be announced on Friday 17th July 2020.
  3. All 40 chefs who are through to the second round will be contacted and invited to compete for a final spot. This second stage will comprise two parts:

Part 1:
You will be invited to present a small signature dish of your choice via video. Brief: If you had to sum yourself up in a dish of two to three bites, what would it be? A dish which reflects your personality, which tells a story that sums you up in a couple of bites. The dish may be a memory that you draw from, it may be a style of cuisine or reflect your heritage, a family memory or ‘hero’ ingredients that you are passionate about. The choice is yours; the theme is yours. Format: You will upload a video, no more than 1 minute 20 seconds long explaining what the dish is and why it is important to you.

Part 2:
You will be sent four supplementary questions to answer briefly and submit. 
These questions will ask for further information on your initial three course menu entry. It is your opportunity to share details on your recipes and why you chose the dishes you did. We also want to know what entering and winning NCOTY would mean to you and how you have dealt with the Coronavirus challenges this year.

Our second-round panel of judges, including Paul Ainsworth, will independently watch the videos and then select their top entrants. The judges, together, will then deliberate to confirm the top 10 finalists. Finalists will be announced on Friday 7th August 2020 and invited to an online Mentor Day.

On-line Mentor Day
This will be held on Tuesday 11th August, through an online platform. The session will feature key judges, giving hints and tips on the final and allowing you, as a competitor the platform to ask questions and ensure you are 100% prepared for the final.

Full details will be shared with successful finalists in due course.

The Grand Final of National Chef of the Year
The hospitality industry has faced its most difficult year in history and many challenges still lie ahead. However, it is an incredibly resilient industry that will bounce back, probably stronger than ever. As part of William Reed’s commitment to connect the industry we are delighted to host Hospitality Week, a full week of activity from Monday 28th September to Friday 2nd October 2020. 

The hotly anticipated NCOTY and YNCOTY cook-offs will take place on Monday 7th September at Le Cordon Bleu. Each competition is being filmed and created into 60-minute TV Productions, which will then feature as part of Hospitality Week, with the winner being revealed on Wednesday 30th September. 

Hospitality Week will be a new virtual concept taking place the same week which The Restaurant Show was originally scheduled for. It has a clear goal of bringing the industry together and helping operators and suppliers navigate the new and unexpected environment we have found ourselves in.

Combining the might of all of William Reed’s leading brands serving the hospitality sector – The Restaurant Show, Morning Advertiser, Big Hospitality, Restaurant Magazine, Low2NoBev and MCA will ensure that this new online event will reach operators from across the sector.

Throughout the week, a range of webinars, competitions and downloadable reports will be made available to a reach of over 700,000 newsletter subscribers, website users, show visitors and social media followers.

Note: At the grand final, competitors will be invited to present their original three course menu from their online entries. This will ensure that your efforts at the entry stages are not lost and judges will have the opportunity to sample your work at the final.  This will also avoid unnecessary wastage as the mystery box will be significantly reduced this year. Chefs should be aware that there may be some additional ‘must use’ ingredients added and provided for the final. Full details will be shared once finalists are announced. However, adequate time will be given to make any necessary amendments to the original entry.

Announcement of the winners
A live awards announcement of the new NCOTY and YNCOTY winners will take place on 30th September, after the screening of the finals. We will bring together finalists, judges and sponsors in an exciting and engaging live announcement to celebrate our winners.

Exclusive VIP Celebration
Networking and the opportunity to meet is and has always been a key element for the competition. For 2020, we will bring together everyone in April 2021 at an awards lunch to showcase and celebrate our finalists and of course the winners for 2021.

What are the key dates we need to be aware of?

  1. Closing date – 15th June 2020
  2. Announcement of semi-finalists on 17th July 2020
  3. Semi-finalists videos to be sent in by Thursday 30th July 2020
  4. Ten finalists to be announced on Friday 7th August 2020
  5. NCOTY mentor day to be held on Monday 11th September 2020
  6. The final of NCOTY will be filmed live on Monday 7th September 2020, to then be featured within Hospitality Week on Wednesday 30th September 2020.

How will the best chefs be found if we are not cooking our dishes?

Every year over 100 entries are whittled down to just 40 based on the online entry alone. This is why it’s worth you investing so much time into the first stage. Make sure your recipe is as clear as possible and your pictures are of the best quality. Whilst in an ideal world we’d love the semi-finals to run in the normal way and for our expert panel of judges to be able to taste every dish, this isn’t feasible in 2020. However, as part of the video process our judges will be scrutinising your entry and learning as much as possible about your skills, technique and style. We are confident we’ll find ten talented finalists who will all get to cook their dishes for our impressive panel of judges.

How will Paul Ainsworth be involved in the new process?

Paul Ainsworth will be reviewing the online menus you submit as well as watching the second stage videos to find our ten finalists. He has been instrumental in helping to make sure this event still goes ahead and is excited to lead the competition. The brief for the second stage was his idea so he could learn more about each chef and their style of cooking. There has been a lot of interest and excitement around Paul’s original three course brief and he is looking forward to tasting ten of these menus at the final this year.

I am struggling to get all the ingredients, what should I do?

If you have had to adapt your menu from how you really want it to be or have had to substitute an ingredient due to Coronavirus, then please make this clear on your entry. The judges completely understand that these are not normal times. We want to provide you with every opportunity to perfect your menu and we have extended the deadline to allow you more time to get hold of ingredients.

Will I get to cook the dishes I’ve created for the online entry?

All chefs who make it to the final will get to cook the dishes they are currently working on. There may be some slight tweaks which will be revealed to all ten finalists, but the hard work you are putting in now will absolutely pay off as our judges will taste these dishes.

I am struggling to take photos especially not having access to the kitchen?
Some competitors are having issues with getting hold of ingredients or having correct facilities to cook their dishes and to photograph the final results for the entry form. The Organisers or NCOTY are conscious of these challenges and are being as flexible as possible. We will not penalise competitors who are struggling due to the Covid-19 situation.

Helpful hints:

  • Judges need as much information as possible to help them at the paper entry stage.
  • We would advise that competitors do as much as they can under the circumstances.
  • Make a note on recipes where either photos are missing or to follow, or where ingredients in a photo is different.
  • A highlight or note in the method to explain any changes will be helpful.
  • Also if photos will not be possible due to the situation, then please put some extra detail in the description/method to assist the judges.

What will the video entail?

Chefs will have up to one minute 20 seconds to present their dish and then talk about it as well as their motivations for making it. Each chef should make it clear why they chose that dish to represent them and briefly explain how they made it. Judges are looking for skill and creativity of the dish rather than technical video skills however it’s down to each chef as to how they choose to present it. A technical brief will be provided to all 40 chefs shortlisted and they will be invited to join a free NCOTY webinar from our digital team who will share advice and ideas.

I am not very good on video, what help will be offered?

Our social media and PR team will be offering all 40 chefs who get through to the second stage the opportunity to join an online webinar. The Digital Blonde team will share advice for chefs on how to create the best video possible and how to promote themselves in the right way. These will focus not only on any technical worries you may have, but also how best to come across on camera. However, you are not being judged on the quality of your video. It’s the food you produce and your reasoning behind the dish that you are being scored on.

What other opportunities will being an entrant for NCOTY of the year bring?

All chefs who register on the National Chef of the Year website will be invited to watch regular webinars to help motivate and inspire them during these challenging times. This will include online interviews with some of our former winners and expert judges and advice from suppliers and leaders in the industry to help you create the best online entry possible. This includes how to sell yourself and your dishes on paper as well as advice on taking food photos from our partners Hospitality Media. As soon as all the dates have been confirmed we’ll send you details of the webinars so you can register. These are free for all chefs to be part of and will be completed via Zoom.

Mise-en-place - cooking at the Final

In addition to mis-en-place allowed / stipulated within the entry form criteria (see below), the organisers will be flexible due to the Covid-19 situation for the final and details will be highlighted on 11th September at the virtual mentor day.

Mise-en-place - allowed

Unless stated in the criteria, no preparation is permitted other than:

  • Weighed ingredients
  • Peeled, not prepared fruit and vegetables
  • Basic stocks
  • Puff pastry, filo pastry
  • Egg custards (not set) and batters
  • Marinated meats or fish (where appropriate)


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