With the entry for The National Chef of the Year ending soon, we’ve been exploring how being part of competitions like this can help a chef to progress in their career. It’s not always about taking home the title or claiming a long list of prizes that incentivises chefs to enter. Chefs come back time and time again for their own personal growth and development. From the moment you decide to enter a competition, it can help you grow as a chef and give you an increased sense of self-belief and confidence. We’ve been catching up with some of our finalists from the last few years to discover what impact being part of the competition has had on them.
An education outside the kitchen
Glenn Evans made his first final in 2018, after entering the competition for a few years previously. When talking to him about how it has helped him develop both personally and professionally, he told us: “NCOTY gives me an opportunity to experiment with new ingredients and methods. My day to day job is casual dining, but it is good to learn from the competition and pass it on to my business in a more simplified way. The educational element is the best part of my development as my classic skills can be perfected and this helps me to be the best chef possible. Since getting involved, I have gone on to win the National Burger Awards and take part in the International Cuban Sandwich Awards, as a result of the confidence gained in The National Chef of the Year.”
Enjoying the experience
For many chefs, entering competitions can feel a little daunting but for NCOTY finalist Nick Smith, he has always liked being part of them, revealing: “I like the competitive edge and the experience of being involved has built me up personally, in and outside of work. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole competition. Although I thought about NCOTY constantly for about a year, I feel that was necessary to do the competition properly. I learnt so much from the feedback from judges and organisers and this has helped build my profile. By doing competitions, I have learnt to be more organised and cook differently and look at different angles of cookery. It has inspired my team as well, and each time I have entered, I have felt responsible to inspire younger people in my kitchen.”
A change in mentality
Adam Thomason is no stranger to the National Chef of the Year experience, having been a runner-up in both 2016 and 2017. He explained that the competition changes your mentality as a chef because you push yourself completely out of your comfort zone. One of the key reasons for entering is the feedback he receives from the judges, which he simply describes as “priceless”.
Exciting networking opportunities
Stephanie Coupland was a finalist in 2017 and wowed head judge, Clare Smyth with her dessert. The National Chef of the Year competition provides many networking opportunities from the online conversation during the entry drive to the semi-finals, presentation events at Sheffield College and Le Cordon Bleu, the mentor day with sponsors and other finalists and of course the grand final at The Restaurant Show. It’s at the final where you get the opportunity to cook for literally the biggest names in the UK culinary scene. Stephanie told us: “It was great meeting new people and of course the judges and so many amazing chefs that helped me grow as a chef and a person. NCOTY was amazing for networking and bringing you out of your comfort zone whilst you are constantly learning and progressing your skills.”
Opening new doors
Former runner-up, Simon Webb agrees with Stephanie on the wealth of networking opportunities adding: “The main reason it has helped me develop as a chef is to do with building new relationships and meeting other chefs that I might not have met before. It’s also opened up a few other doors for me, such as being able to represent the England National Culinary Team.”
Mentoring other chefs
Last year the Craft Guild of Chefs introduced the Matt Campbell Extra Mile Award to recognise a chef who was a true ambassador for the industry. The first ever recipient was George Blogg, who was also runner-up in the competition. George found the competition increased his own confidence. He said: “I had no competition experience before and for me to learn about how the competition works has enabled me to mentor other chefs in the brigade. It pushes you and gives you extra motivation.”
We’d love to know how entering competitions has helped you develop as a chef. Do you encourage other chefs in your kitchen to enter them? Let us know via our social channels using the hashtag #NCOTY.