Why competing in competitions is so important for a chef’s career: An interview with Le Cordon Bleu London’s Master Chef and Culinary Arts Director, Emil Minev
Chef Emil Minev is a Le Cordon Bleu London Diplôme de Pâtisserie alumnus and has many years of culinary experience in fine dining. After moving to London from Bulgaria in 2001, he joined the team at 3 Michelin-starred La Tante Claire at The Berkley Hotel where he worked with Pierre Koffmann and first experienced a pastry kitchen. Following this Chef Emil has taken up senior positions in some of the world’s best restaurants such as The Ritz in London, 3 Michelin-starred El Bulli in Barcelona and the multi-award winning Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel in Dubai. Chef Emil’s most recent position was as Executive Chef at the 5* Shangri-La Hotel London leading a brigade of 70 chefs.
Chef Emil joined Le Cordon Bleu London as Master Chef and Culinary Arts Director in 2016.
1. Have you competed in any competitions during your career?
I competed in three competitions early in my career which were the Roux Scholarship and the Master of Culinary Arts, both in which I reached the semi-finals, and the Caviar Trophy competition where I came second place, winning silver. I was twenty-something years old, not too young and not too old, so I thought it was the best time for me to try really. It was more for sport I have never been that determined to win.
2. How did you find it?
I found the process interesting but I also discovered that is not something that I would like to do day in and day out. Some people compete in competitions every year, or for instance in the National Chef of the Year or Roux scholarship they compete several times before they win it, but for me it was more of an experience to see how it works. It was a learning curve, I mean I am a very competitive person but competitions are not really a passion of mine.
3. What did you learn from these experiences?
The most important thing that I learnt was that during competitions you are in fact competing with yourself. During the competition you are not aware of what the others are doing, you are not aware of the techniques that they are using or who’s standing against you on the other side. This means that you just try to get the best out of yourself, and that’s what is most important. You also utilise certain skills such a timing, organisation and working under pressure which are all great things to learn.
4. How important do you think it is for a chef to participate in such competitions?
I think it is very important, especially in the top competitions, not necessarily to win but I think that the experience as a whole is great. The networking is fantastic, you meet some great chefs, you test yourself, you push yourself to the limit as well and it’s a big part of a chef’s development, so I think it is pretty important, especially for the younger chefs.
5. Having worked as an Executive Chef in many high-end establishments would this aspect of a chef’s career history make you more inclined to hire them?
Obviously you hire someone mainly for their attitude and skill, as well as their CV, but of course it is definitely a plus and not a minus if someone has also competed in competitions, but I wouldn’t hire someone purely based on only their competition records, obviously it’s not enough. It is definitely a plus though, it is definitely a CV enhancer.
6. What advice would you give to those that are competing in the National Chef of the Year competition?
National Chef of the Year is probably one of, if not the most prestigious culinary competition in the UK so the advice I would give to them is to be as prepared as possible, try your dishes time and time again, and ensure that during the competition you have a very good plan, the timing is perfectly set and you are very familiar with what you are doing. Again the most important thing to remember is that you are competing against yourself, so you should just try to do the best that you possibly can. And if you don’t win or you don’t pass the semi-finals, it is not because you are not a good chef, it’s just sometimes when you’re competing and under pressure you can make mistakes, so not winning doesn’t make you a failure. Competitions are about the experience it is not always about winning, because on the day anything can go wrong!
7. What impact do you think winning such a competition will have on a chef’s career?
Oh it can be amazing for a chef’s career! If you win such a competition you get great recognition and it definitely displays your skills. Not only as a chef but your personality, your strength, your endurance and your mental strength as well, and it will undoubtedly give your confidence a boost!
8. Do you have any top-tips about how to be successful in the industry?
My top-tips for success would be to be stubborn! A chef’s career is a long marathon not a short sprint! It’s a tough job and sometimes even frustrating. Its long hours, hard work with many ups and downs and you need to be stubborn in order to push through. And also, don’t lose your passion that’s the most important thing. Just keep going, and enjoy what you do.