2017 was a year that Luke Selby will never forget. After winning the Roux Scholarship in the April, he then went on to claim a semi-final spot in National Chef of the Year just a few months later. Whilst he just made it into the final by clinching a runner-up spot, Luke admits how much he learnt from that experience to take him on to continue his winning streak.
Discover his top tips for those chefs currently working on their National Chef of the Year entries and the live cook-off stages beyond.
Put the work into your online entry. This is the first thing that the judges will see so make sure it stands out. Names are removed from the entry judging process, so all the judges see is what you put forward to cook in the semi-final. It’s vital to get that right as first impressions will count since they select the all-important top 40 chefs.
2. Whilst it is important to allow time to get your entry done so it doesn’t look rushed, it also doesn’t need to be something that you started back in February. I hadn’t planned to enter until I was talking to Gary Jones a few weeks before the closing date and he said he hoped to see my entry. It was always a competition I had followed and one I wanted to win one-day, but I didn’t think 2017 was my time. However, Gary’s comments encouraged me to consider entering. My advice is it’s never too late to start working on an entry as you really don’t know where that online form could take you.
3. Whilst the brief changes each year, when I came to brainstorm my dishes, I simply concentrated on the seasons and using classic flavours. I didn’t want to do anything too crazy but wanted to add some little twists which would put my own stamp on the competition.
4. Be prepared to make lots of changes to your dishes from those initial ideas you have in your brainstorm. When you start practicing your recipes, you will want to refine them and develop each course to make it even better. You will discover that some things sound great on paper but are impractical when you consider you only have two hours to cook three courses in a kitchen that is unfamiliar to you. Once I started cooking my dishes, I discovered all kinds of complications which meant I had to mix things up until I was absolutely sure I would be comfortable cooking within the semi-final conditions.
5. Cook the dishes for other people to test them out. I had only cooked mine for my girlfriend but looking back I wish I had practised them more. It’s great to get feedback as this is how we learn and develop as chefs. Use any spare time you have over the coming weeks to cook-up those dishes for family, friends and colleagues.
6. Absorb all the feedback you can get from the judges at every stage of the competition. I made the time to speak to the judges after the semi-final and took on board all their comments. Basically, the judges all encouraged me to work harder and pull my socks up. One of them even said to me “What were you thinking?” This really made me realise I needed to put a lot more effort in if I was to have any impact on the competition at all.
7. It may sound obvious but practise! I was so surprised to make the final as I hadn’t won my heat, but I remember thinking “I just wish I had done more practise”. When it came to the final, I put so much more time and thought into creating those winning recipes and then practised cooking them every single day for two weeks. Whilst National Chef of the Year was one of the hardest competitions I’ve ever done, that hard work obviously paid off.
Could you follow in Luke’s footsteps? Entry for this year’s National Chef of the Year closes on the 12th April 2019 and you can enter online at www.nationalchefoftheyear.co.uk.