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Meet your National Chef of the Year heat 3 semi-finalists

With just a matter of days until we get the London heats of the National Chef of the Year underway, we’ve been learning more about some of this year’s successful chefs who are battling to claim one of just ten final spots.

Adam Thomason, executive chef, Genuine Dining Company

Adam first heard about the NCOTY competition years ago and hearing how big a challenge it was, thought it was right up his street. He told us:”It’s an amazing opportunity to cook for a panel of judges and that in itself doesn’t happen day to day. I didn’t celebrate getting into the semi-finals; don’t get me wrong, it is something to be incredibly proud of, but my first thought was right let’s create a training plan to make sure I get enough practice in.”

Adam thinks the best way to prepare for the competition is to eat the dishes as a menu and make sure the whole meal is balanced as well as getting feedback from other chefs and non-chefs too. He likes to get as much information as possible to develop his dishes.   

When thinking about who inspires him, Adam finds it hard to choose just one person. There have been so many inspirational chefs he has watched and read about but feels nothing comes close to when someone takes time to give you honest guidance and uses their knowledge and generosity to help you learn and progress. He said:”Even though we no longer work together, Jeremy Ford has been a real mentor to me over the years and still inspires me today.”

When asked how he felt about this year’s brief and cooking for the judges he told us: “I’m loving the new rules on the main course and the fact that one element of the beef can be pre-cooked is a game changer. It really gives us the chance to show a whole new style of food so that is something I am excited to show the judges. This dish was inspired by my love of using every part of the animal and, using an old school phrase, ‘nose to tail cooking’.

Adam feels that most chefs find it tricky to look after themselves in this tough industry, but you should look after yourself as well as your team. When the opportunity came up to take a yoga class once a week, he took it. He admits he’s not very flexible, but it has given him so much more energy in the kitchen!

Robert Sussex, senior sous chef, ISS

Robert first heard about the competition through a friend entering as they had made it through to the semi-finals but unfortunately didn’t get through to the next stage. His manager had watched it live and was sure Robert could win and truly believed he should give it a shot. When he heard he had made it to the semi-finals, Robert was actually in the kitchen making the dishes he had put forward to the competition for some VIP clients. It was a risky move as he obviously didn’t know if he would get through. However, he found out about 10 minutes before serving them and this meant he could talk through each dish and his ideas behind them to the guests.  

Robert has put the dishes on as a special ‘NCOTY’ menu. This way he can practice them every single day, get feedback and make final tweaks to perfect them further. One of his greatest inspirations in his career is his old head chef, Elliot Hill. He taught Robert how to be creative like no other chef had and used to blow his mind with the ideas he came up with.

Admitting he has concentrated on all his dishes equally, if Robert had to pick his favourite course it would probably be his main course. He said: “I use a fermented turnip in this which I was amazed by the first time I tried it. Fermenting unlocks a new flavour profile you’d never find without it. I found this in Rene Redzepi’s and Tommy Banks books and now we have jars full of lovely fermenting root vegetables. I’ve got to give credit to the dashi served with the starter which is probably one of my favourite things full of umami. If I do get through, I think I might scream like a 6-year old.”

Robert knows what it is like to compete having once entered three chef competitions in a day and taking the top spot in them all.  

Renemar Pinedo, sous chef, The Feathered Nest Country Inn

As a sous chef at The Feathered Nest Inn, Renemar Pinedo knows this competition very well. For the last two years, he was a commis to his head chef Kuba Winkowski, who won last year. It was always Renemar’s dream to enter by himself and show everyone his own dishes and ideas.  

The amazing news about getting into the semi-finals of the National Chef of the Year was brought to him by Kuba during a lunch service. He admits he was over the moon, jumping and shouting, so much he believes that all the restaurant could hear him. He celebrated the news with all the chefs from the kitchen with a bottle of cold beer and later called all his friends and family.

Renemar thinks preparation is the key to success believing the more you prepare, the more confident and relaxed you will be on the competition day. When asked who has inspired him, he revealed: “First my college teacher Mr Jean-Paul Bunshoten from Cas Spijkers Academy in Holland who taught me lots of cooking techniques and work ethics. And of course, chef Kuba Winkowski who has also shown me lots of new skills and taught me how to treat ingredients with respect. He is my motivation in pushing myself forward and growing as a chef.”

Whilst Renemar is excited to show all his dishes to the judges he is most proud of his main course. Having been born in Curacao, it is a dish which shows most of his heritage. He is trying to incorporate Caribbean flavours which he knows from his childhood with modern English cooking.

Charles Coulombeau, head chef, Gravetye Manor

Charles admits he likes a challenge and believes that NCOTY is a great opportunity to work on himself and be judged by his peers. To prepare for the London heat, he is practising as much as he can and sharing his dishes with his team to get feedback. When looking at his career, his biggest inspiration is Olivier Brulard, the head chef of Michel Guérard Restaurant in France, which has 3 Michelin stars, where Charles worked for over two years.

Charles is most looking forward to serving his main course of beef with artichokes. He has been inspired by the season and the beautiful beef of Trenchmore Farm. He feels that these ingredients match well together. He is really happy to be judged by such a great panel of chefs.

Martin Lee, head chef, Hartwell House Hotel

Having followed The Caterer, various other chefs and the Craft Guild of Chefs, Martin has known about the competition for a few years from social media. He started an entry last year but did not complete it as he was not entirely happy with his menu. This year, he put a lot more thought into the brief and is over the moon to have got to the semi-finals. The main thing that attracted him was the opportunity to test himself against other great chefs and to see how far he could go.

When the semi-final news was released, Martin was having brunch with a couple of friends. One of these friends happens to be one of the best young chefs he has ever worked with and the other is his commis for the semi-finals, as well as being one of the ushers at his wedding. It was actually the day after his birthday and the same day his wife got offered a new job, so they went out for a meal with some friends to celebrate. The next day was spent planning and preparing for the semi-finals.

Martin is leaving nothing to chance and is preparing for the next round by trying to plan his time for the day and practicing all of the elements for the dishes. He has had several run throughs using similar restrictions. Working for some great names in London taught Martin that anything is possible. He has a great relationship with his current executive chef who has given him a lot of advice over the years. His biggest inspiration though is his family who are always telling him he can succeed and, coming from them, it helps him believe it too.

We asked Martin to reveal which part of his menu he’s most looking forward to serving and he told us: “I think the starter will be the most interesting. It was the most difficult part of the brief for me and I just hope I have interpreted it in a way that pleases the judges. It also has the most elements and requires the most work so if I can pull it off the way I want, I will have achieved something at least. If I make the finals, I will be simply awestruck and over the moon. The line-up this year, both judges and competitors, is mind blowing and to have simply reached the finals will be the best moment of my career so far.”

When he was younger, Martin’s ambition was to become a solicitor. He got into cooking to help him pay for university but fell in love with being in a kitchen.

Harry Kirkpatrick, sous chef, Trinity Restaurant

Harry has been following the competition for a while now and has always been interested by it. He likes the idea of pushing himself under different conditions and in a new environment to that of his day to day job. When he found out he was in the semi-finals of National Chef of the Year he was having dinner at Eleven Madison Park in New York.

In the build up to the semi-finals he is trying not to overthink the competition and simply practise where he can. His team at Trinity inspire him every day. The starter is the dish he is most looking forward to serving saying: “I'm doing an omelette, which seems brave (or stupid I guess) in a competition of this level. The inspiration came through reading many Escoffier books.”

Who else is competing in this heat?

We are looking forward to tasting the dishes from Jack Shaw, head chef at Lexington Catering, Mehdi Lahmadi, junior sous chef at Coworth Park Hotel, Liam Grime, military chef - Combined Services Culinary Arts Team (CSCAT) and Jake Burton Stewart, junior sous chef for The Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn.

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