It’s been five months since James Devine was crowned the National Chef of the Year but those memories of winning are still so fresh in his mind. From the moment James decided to enter NCOTY, he put absolutely everything into the competition. As the search for the next winner continues, James has been sharing his advice on how to make sure your paper entry stands out.
1. Try get your entry prepared as soon as possible. It may sound obvious but it gives you time to keep looking over your dishes and improve them if you can. I started working on some ideas as soon as the brief came out but I kept coming back to my entry with fresh eyes and was very critical of myself. I wanted to make my paper entry the absolute best it could be.
2. Let a couple of other people look over your paper entry before you hit submit. This is most likely to be other chefs but I’d also ask someone who isn’t a chef to look at it. It needs to be clear and easy to follow and other pairs of eyes will often see mistakes you won't.
3. Try to enjoy all stages of the process. It goes by faster than you think and if you don’t relish it then it becomes a stressful experience. It’s an amazing opportunity and you will want to look back and remember your time in the competition fondly.
4. Whatever stage you get to in the competition, it’s a great achievement to be involved at all, so try and be proud of yourself. When I submitted my paper entry I felt really pleased with what I had entered and had enjoyed the whole process of research, creating and cooking my menu.
5. If you get to the semi-final, you will create the dishes from your paper entry so make sure you practice cooking them as much as possible. You need to be 100% confident that you will be able to make them in the two-hour timeframe in an unfamiliar kitchen.
6. Again, it may sound obvious but you should cook food you enjoy yourself and are competent with! The judges will be looking to see what your style and take on the brief is but most of all want to see good, basic culinary skills.
7. If you are lucky enough to make it to the semi-final my main advice is to relax, keep calm and breathe. You will be cooking for some of the UKs most well respected chefs and it’s an absolute honour, so make the most of that opportunity as the time goes by so quickly.