With just a few days left for entering this year’s National Chef of the Year competition we caught up with former winner, Freddy Forster, who won in 2011, to find out more about his experience and discover what he thinks of 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 26 chefs have ever experienced. Can you tell us a little more about what that moment feels like?
I had entered a few times but hadn’t won, so the moment my name was called as the NCOTY winner I felt such a huge sense of relief and excitement. When you’ve faced a few hurdles in life and you keep having to pick yourself up and try again, you get such a sense of relief and pride when you finally achieve what you set out to do.
2. What is it that makes the National Chef of the Year competition so special?
When I was a young student at Westminster Kingsway I used to hear about the competition and knew it was something I wanted to win one day. I remember in my second year there was a chef called Winston Matthews and I was his commis chef for the competition. It was an amazing event to be involved with and it really made you appreciate what a huge achievement it was to win it. The names on the list are just incredible. It’s been great for my career as winning is absolute testament to a chef’s drive and determination.
3. At the moment, there will be many chefs busy finalising their menus for the paper entry stage, what advice would you give to them?
It took me a few years to fully understand exactly what the judges are looking for, so if you’ve entered before I’d recommend you use the experience to keep trying. You must have three great dishes, don’t just focus on one as they all need to be outstanding. Don’t be over elaborate, staying in season is vital and ultimately it comes down to the taste of the food. Your dishes may look beautiful but the food has to be delicious. Finally, stay true to yourself and stick to what you know and are good at so you are confident and comfortable with what you are cooking in the next stage.
4. This year’s brief says ‘the menu must consist of a vegetarian based starter, a duck and cherry combination main course and a classic tart as a dessert.’ What’s your thought on the brief this year?
It’s a fantastic brief! The vegetarian option is an element of cooking that is so relevant these days. More people are dining out who are vegetarian and it’s a real sign of the industry telling chefs that these customers are just as important as everyone else. There’s so much you can do with vegetables too, so I think this is a good choice. Duck and cherry is a very classic combination, as is a tart, which I believe shows how the judges are looking for you to demonstrate classical culinary skills. Many young chefs get wrapped up in innovation, but National Chef of the Year is about pure skills and this brief provides so much potential to showcase your talent.
5. What advice would you give to someone who is entering for the first time?
Read the brief very carefully so you completely understand it. I’d also say look at the menus created by winners over the last few years so you can see what kind of dishes have won the competition. Also, whatever stage you get to have some fun, as cooking is what we do best so make sure you enjoy it.
6. And finally, what is it that the judges will be looking for when they are sifting through over 100 menus in May?
The menus that stand out will be well balanced. Judges want to see a menu that reads well and makes sense, as they only have what’s in front of them to base their decision on. Your entry should look professional, so make sure it’s checked by others and pay attention to spelling mistakes. You want the judges to be able to envisage eating what you have put forward. Good luck to everyone entering!
Be in it to win it!
You could be the next chef to join the Hall of Fame but you only have until Friday 7th April to send us your entry.