How many Michelin stars does it take to find the National Chef of the Year?

With just one week until we crown the new National Chef of the Year (NCOTY) we are delighted to announce the judges for this year’s final. It will take place in front of a live audience at The Restaurant Show on Tuesday, 4th October and as usual, event organiser, David Mulcahy has pulled together some of the industry’s elite to judge this event.

Commenting on the announcement of the judges, David Mulcahy, Vice-President of the Craft Guild of Chefs said: “NCOTY is known as the UKs most prestigious culinary competition and to win the title chefs have to pull out all the stops to impress so many high profile judges. We often talk about the number of Michelin stars on the judging platform and this year is no exception. I’d like to thank all of the judges for taking time out of their busy working lives to help make this competition the huge event that it is today.”

This year our ten NCOTY finalists have to impress 21 judges and the panel will be led by Chair, Clare Smyth MBE. Joining Clare on the judging panel this year is

• Philip Howard
• Andrew Fairlie
• Lee Westcott
• Daniel Galmiche
• Andrew Pern
• Dan Doherty
• Gary Jones
• Benoit Blin MCA
• Daniel Clifford
• Sat Bains
• Simon Hulstone
• Paul Ainsworth
• Brett Graham
• Jonny Lake
• Stephen Terry
• Matt Christmas
• Claude Bosi
• Graham Hornigold
• Julie Sharp
• Jonas Dahlbom

What will the judges be looking for and what advice have they got for finalists?

Paul Ainsworth, Chef Patron at Paul Ainsworth at Number 6, said “As nervous as you’ll be, try to stay as calm as possible as you will cook your best when you are relaxed. Don’t take for granted the basic things, such as seasoning, and keep tasting all the way through. Finally, use your time as wisely as possible.”

Executive Chef, Jonas Dahlbom agreed about keeping calm adding: “Do what you planned and follow your time schedule. Don’t start inventing stuff in the moment. And never ever forget the taste.”

Craft Guild of Chefs’ Special Award winner and Chef Patron, Sat Bains commented: “Stay focused and almost forget that the judges are there. Simply act as if you are in your own kitchen and work clean, work fast and deliver. To be crowned NCOTY, you need to show off all the attributes that you have learned. Chefs at this level are normally Head Chefs or a Chef Patron so a real indication of skill, discipline and flair has to be evident.”

When asked what he’ll be looking for in the kitchen, Daniel Clifford, Chef Patron of Midsummer House told us: “For me, cleanliness and organisation, flavour combinations and most of all taste. My advice would be to keep it simple with flavours that can work together. Practice the dishes over and over again, keep some technical classics and work clean.”

Executive Head Chef at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, Gary Jones was quick to comment on what it takes to be crowned NCOTY sharing: “I have been fortunate to see the growth and development of many good young chefs into great chefs and the standard of this competition is unprecedented in the UK. Everyone who enters wins in terms of their own development. To pull off the win though is not luck, it’s hard work, discipline, dedication and skill. Our industry benefits from the raised standards and knowledge across the board, Britain’s chefs are becoming stronger as a result raising the bar in every region of the UK.

With a word of warning for those chefs who don’t take the top spot Gary added: “Be prepared to 'go again' as the experience of not winning will make you even stronger next time. Those that get back to their feet quickly and focus on the judges’ feedback will hone their next entry and will reap the rewards. It’s time-consuming and energy sapping but you keep that title of NCOTY for a lifetime so it’s worth every second invested. Raise your skills, focus on your cooking and give it a go.”

Knowing what is required to take the crown, former NCOTY and Chef Patron at The Elephant Restaurant, Simon Hulstone said he will be looking for the overall package: “I’m going to be looking at the taste of food, and someone who is going to be a true ambassador for the industry. My advice for the final week would be to practice, the kitchen is different to what you are used to. Add time to your run throughs as you will always work differently on the day.”

Benoit Blin, Head Pastry Chef at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons described the competition like Formula 1 stating that “Competition like this drives the chefs and the industry forward. I’m going to be be looking for a good balance of flavour combined with innovation, cooked to perfection”.

Daniel Doherty, Group Executive Chef for Duck & Waffle Restaurants, is judging National Chef of the Year for the first time and said: “It's always a great thing to give people the opportunity to showcase their skills on the biggest platform. Not just in a competitive environment but for them to see what each other are doing and to make some great connections too. The calibre of chefs competing is great, so for them to be in the same place cooking to such a high standard can only be a good thing for the industry.”

The National Chef of the Year final will take place in the Competition Theatre at The Restaurant Show from 1pm until 3pm on 4th October. You can watch the live final by registering for a visitor pass at The announcement of the winner will take place at The Stage at 5pm. You can also follow the live action on Twitter via @Craft_Guild and #NCOTY. Elements of the competition, including the announcement will be streamed on Periscope.

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