60 seconds with former NCOTY, Simon Hulstone
As we continue our search to find this year’s National Chef of the Year champion we caught up with former NCOTY winner, Simon Hulstone. He took the crown back in 2008 and we wanted to find out more about his experience, gain some words of wisdom for current entrants and discover his thoughts on this year’s brief.
1. So many chefs are eager to hear their name called out as the new National Chef of the Year but it’s something only 25 chefs have experienced. Can you tell us a little more about what that moment feels like?
I was convinced that this was my year, the three previous attempts I knew I had made mistakes and I wasn’t leaving this time without the award. Before the competition, I had worked so hard on practising, timing and presentation, I did my research and solely focused on the prize. When my name was called out it was a massive wave of emotion and relief. This was a prize I had wanted for near on 20 years and finally I had succeeded. It was all my Christmases in one and I honestly didn’t know what to do with myself. I remember almost crying on stage when asked to do a speech. Looking back, I think, what a wimp, but it meant so much to me.
2. What is it that makes the National Chef of the Year competition so special?
When I was competing it was the build-up; it was over two years between each winner and it was such a long time you had to be focused on the competition for. The previous winners were all people I looked up to and some I had worked with and others I had competed against. National Chef of the Year was the pinnacle of this and once won you joined a long list of accomplished professionals.
3. At the moment there will be many chefs busy planning their menus for the paper entry stage, what advice would you give to them?
Paper entries are really important. Make sure they are clean to read, well presented and make sense. Any judge needs to visualise a dish from just the words and want to eat it. Don’t write a recipe as though another chef is reading it, write it as if a plumber is reading it and can follow it from start to finish.
4. This year’s brief says the menu must consist of a risotto starter of the competitor’s choice; a main course using a whole chicken, with appropriate accompaniments and a choux pastry dessert of choice. What’s your thought on the brief this year?
I think there are three great dishes that can come from those ingredients: a really tasty starter, a skilled main course and exact cooking with great flavours for dessert. I would be happy with this brief for my semi-final.
5. What advice would you give to someone who is entering for the first time?
Read the entry form over and over again, write out your recipe and then get someone to read it back and comment on it. Finally, practice and practice in a different kitchen to what you normally work in, as you need to be out of your comfort zone and items are not always in reach. Timing is everything in this competition when the pressure is on.
6. And finally, what is it that the judges will be looking for when they are sifting through over 100 menus in May?
Like I said before, clean concise menu composition. Nobody wants to read a badly written recipe. They want to visualise a winning dish and one they can taste just by reading.
Be in it to win it!
Could you be the next chef to join the hall of fame? You only have until 8th April to send us your entry and that time is fast approaching so register now to get involved.