National Chef of the Year finalist- Nick Smith
As a young child, NCOTY finalist, Nick Smith would hear his dad talking about the great times he had working in a kitchen under an inspirational head chef. Hearing his positivity really caught Nick’s attention, so much so, that he chose to take cookery as his vocation. This is where his culinary adventure began.
Nick trained at Southend College where he focused on learning and enjoying everything, and disliking nothing, whist he achieved his City & Guild qualifications. His professional journey started in London working at a number of high profile establishments notably Le Pont de la Tour, The Arts Club and Chinon, all of which proved to be fantastic training opportunities and learning platforms.
As a chef, Nick’s inspiration comes from everywhere and everyone. From the early books that started his collection, White Heat, the Roux Brothers and Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons to the early French masters such as Escoffier, Soyer and much later luminaries Bocuse, Koffman and Keller.
His executive chef had previously entered The National Chef of the Year and hearing his perspective on the competition and the buzz he got from it made the decision to enter a simple one. The challenge felt a little daunting, but Nick decided there was no better way to test, not only your skills but also your character. Performing to your very best under intense scrutiny from the country's top chefs has to be the ultimate challenge and it was an impossible opportunity for him to turn down.
The natural high Nick experienced reaching this year’s final stage is indescribable and for him to accomplish his dream of performing to the best of his ability and winning NCOTY would be the absolute pinnacle of his career. Hearing his name called out as a finalist was an emotional moment, as all the hard work and time put in to his dishes had paid off. Not only for Nick, but for his commis and the whole team. Being a finalist has given him the opportunity to cook for the judges again and to be that one step closer to the ultimate title. Seeing his commis James sharing the same moment made the day extra special and it’s a feeling of pride that Nick won’t forget.
Since becoming a finalist, Nick has been looking at previous finals and ingredient probabilities, researching, trialling new ideas and adapting recipes. He’s also been evaluating the story behind his dishes: the execution, flavours and presentation.
After the announcement, the first people Nick called was his wife, Tina and their two boys who were waiting nervously to hear the results. When Nick told them he had made it to the final, it was an amazing moment for them all. Straight after the event, Nick and James went back to work to see the rest of the team at Ashurst, who were taking care of everything during their absence. For Nick, it truly seemed fitting to thank them in person for all their support and help on his journey through to the finals.
When asked to describe his style of cooking in just three words, Nick asked his chef to answer it for him. “Considered, cared for and adroit” was the response.