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Who will be helping to find the next Young National Chef of the Year?

It’s just days until the Young National Chef of the Year finalists take to the stage and excitement is definitely building. This is always a fascinating competition to watch as the young chefs are at the start of their culinary journey and have so much enthusiasm, confidence and of course, talent. Previous YNCOTY winners have gone on to achieve great things and we can’t wait to discover who will be next to follow names such as Danny Hoang, Ben Champkin, Ben Murphy, Charles Smith and Mark Sargeant.

Before they can be crowned YNCOTY, the finalists have 12 judges to impress and we’re delighted to now reveal who those chefs will be. Heading up the judging panel once again is the brilliant, Mark Sargeant who knows better than most what it feels like to be on that competition stage.

Joining Mark this year will be:

• Sophie Michell, Executive Chef, The Gorgeous Kitchen
• Alyn Williams, Head Chef, Alyn Williams at The Westbury, London
• Hayden Groves, Executive Chef, BaxterStorey
• Sarah Hartnett , Pastry Chef
• Julie Walsh, Executive Chef Lecturer, Le Cordon Bleu
• Russell Bateman, Head Chef, Colette's at The Grove
• Ben Tish, Chef Director, Salt Yard Group
• Lee Westcott, Executive Chef, Typing Room at Town Hall Hotel
• Daniel Galmiche, Chef, Writer, Consultant for Starhotels Group
• Lahiru Jayasekara, Head Chef at Petrus, Gordon Ramsay Restaurants
• James 'Jocky' Petrie, Group Executive Development Chef, Gordon Ramsay Group

We recently interviewed two of the judges, Russell Bateman and Hayden Groves who both know exactly what it takes to be on the National Chef of the Year podium so we could find out what they will be looking for.

What advice would you give to the Young National Chef of the Year finalists for the live final?

Russell: Relax, enjoy it and ignore the crowd and the surroundings. Concentrate on cooking food you believe in and stick to things you know and understand. This is not the place to experiment, use your time wisely, come prepared, practise and push yourself.

Hayden: Firstly, enjoy the experience, come into the day having practiced and knowing your dishes inside out. There will be challenges when something doesn’t go as planned but take a deep breath and work through them. Put your hand up and let the judges know, the majority of us have been in the competition and we all want you to succeed and cook your best.

What will you both be looking for when judging the live final?

Hayden: Ultimately, it’s about serving up great plates of food. Consistency is key across the menu with well-seasoned, delicious plates of food that are served at the right temperature.

Russell: Delicious, properly cooked food, accomplished technique and a confident cook who is enjoying their cooking and delivering results. I’ll also be looking for high end cooking with ambition and style as well as a professional attitude and environment. However, ultimately, flavour will win over everything else.

How does YNCOTY help develop young chefs’ careers?

Russell: The winners name will always be on the list. You can take that achievement with you anywhere around the world and trust me; it will open doors for you. It tells future employers or investors that you are prepared to go that extra mile, that you are not afraid of criticism, in fact you embrace it and are prepared to grow from it. It will also expose you to a whole new world of contacts you would not normally have access to. This will really put you among the elite of young chefs.

Hayden: Top competitions such as YNCOTY really harness a young cook’s potential and are a springboard for great things. Win, lose or draw you are recognised already as an outstanding cook in your peer group by getting to this stage and in the final. Use the opportunity to network with sponsors and potential future employers and ultimately you’ll have some fantastic media and PR opportunities by being in the final ten. If you go on and win it, your name will always be in the hall of fame and you will undoubtedly be looked at as a future industry star.

What does it take to be crowned Young National Chef of the Year?

Russell: Focus, drive, passion, technique, understanding of flavours and how to balance a dish. Respect for the competition, the competitors and the produce. We are looking for the strongest, most professional and confident chef in the field.

Give us one final takeaway for our finalists….

Hayden: Practice! Work on the small details that are going to turn your dishes from good to great. Make sure you enjoy your cooking as the 'best food comes from the heart' and it often makes a difference. I don't know why, it just does.
But there’s one more - perseverance! It is rare that a chef wins on his or her first attempt, so never give up!

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