Six months after winning National Chef of the Year, James Devine looks back at the inspiration behind his winning menu and how his attitude to gastronomy has changed since taking home the title.
As the closing date for National Chef of the Year approaches, it is hard to believe how much has changed in the past year. From studying law at Queen’s University in Belfast, to winning one of the most prestigious titles in the world of Great British gastronomy - my life has completely changed.
Holding the title of National Chef of the Year has seen me grow on both a personal and professional level, as I have been fortunate enough to learn from some of the best chefs in the world. I have seen my approach and attitude towards food evolve and take a new direction. My recent experiences have helped me think about the overall dining experience and how more unusual ingredients such as coffee can be incorporated into menus or paired with dishes, to help elevate them to the next level and push the boundaries of modern cuisine.
Looking back at my winning menu, I remember being taken into a room filled with all types of produce from around the world and feeling overwhelmed by the range of ingredients available. I was immediately drawn to the premium ingredients such as lobster, oysters, and venison, as these were what I thought would create a winning menu.
It was at this mystery basket stage that I was first exposed to Nespresso as an ingredient and after learning about the heritage and quality of the beans, I knew immediately that it would complement the dessert I was developing in my head. As I started to finalise my menu, I realised that I wanted to create something different to help me stand out to the judges but still represented my style of cooking.
The idea of taking the traditional and adding an unusual twist was the inspiration behind my dessert – a soft centred chocolate and coffee tart with passion fruit curd. For me the coffee element of the dish was particularly important, as it was vital that I had access to high-quality coffee, which bought the perfect balance of flavours and aromas to the dish - adding Nespresso allowed me to create the perfect dessert.
Since winning National Chef of the Year, I have become increasingly interested in further experimenting with the role coffee can play in the fine dining experience. For example, the practice of pairing food with coffee has been one combination that I have started to explore, to further elevate my dishes and enhance the restaurant experience.
Indeed coffee is not just a post-meal digestive. From cocktails to desserts and savoury dishes, high-quality coffee, such as Nespresso is being incorporated into fine-dining menus in a variety of ways. Increasingly, we are seeing a trend in the pairing of high quality coffee with food, in order to create an all-encompassing fine dining experience. Similar to the way we pair our food with wine, restaurants now look to provide customers with the perfect cup of coffee to complement their meals. Nespresso has grasped this trend and works to produce new and unique flavours, aromas and profiles that work well with a variety of meals.
Later on this month, I will also be attending the Nespresso Chef Academy in Switzerland, to help me explore the role of coffee in gastronomy and how Nespresso Grand Cru coffees can not only be incorporated into my dishes but paired alongside them as well, to deliver the customer with the ultimate fine dining experience.
I cannot wait to see where this journey takes me!
James Devine, National Chef of the Year 2017