Meet the YNCOTY 2020 Finalists

Sion Hughes

Sion is currently working at Carden Park Hotel and Spa in Chester as the chef de partie and he is in charge of the larder section for the à la carte restaurant and the four banquet venues they have at the hotel.

Unlike many chefs, Sion did not go to college to do his training. Some of what he knows has been self-taught and the rest has come from working under Graham Tinsley, Harri Williams and Dion Jones over the past three years. 

Sion actually left Carden Park last spring to go to Rogan and Co. in Cartmel but he felt it was too big a jump for him, so he returned to Carden Park to improve his skills with new chef, Harri Williams. Hopefully in the next few years he will work his way up to Michelin starred kitchens, when he feels more ready and confident in his cooking. 

When asked what he loves most about being a chef, he said it’s that moment when you have prepared, made and served something special for a customer and they love it and give good feedback. It’s a feeling he doesn’t think you can top. He also loves the team at Carden Park and how when the going gets tough they all work together. They have a saying “one team, one dream.” 

Sion has wanted to be a chef since he was about five or six years old after helping out in the kitchen at home. His favourite things to make as a child were pasta and a banana loaf for dessert.

When it comes to career influences, Sion has followed Gordon Ramsey from quite a young age. He loves the passion and pure talent of him and that inspires him to want to push himself. Whenever someone says to Sion “that’s perfect” his response is always “nothing’s ever perfect, there’s always room for improvement”.

The reason for Sion wanting todo competitions is not only to push himself and try to improve his skills but also to see what other people are doing. He feels it’s a good way to see what other chefs are up to and to network with people you otherwise wouldn’t get the chance to meet. He loves the feeling you get during and after a competition with a slight adrenaline rush. To be in the final of the Young National Chef of the Year (YNCOTY) means a lot to him and he is very grateful and fortunate to be in the position many young chefs only dream of. This makes all the long hours practicing and researching recipes and methods worthwhile.

Winning the YNCOTY competition would mean everything to him, so much so he just couldn’t put it into words! He will approach this final in the same way he does any other competition, with 100% focus and determination to find out what works and what doesn’t. Normally in a competition he will try to stay within his comfort zone and not try new things. However, to win YNCOTY he thinks he’s going to have to push himself even harder.

Matt Nicholls

After training at University College Birmingham, Matt has worked at The Cross at Kenilworth, Simpsons Restaurant and Fishmore Hall in Ludlow before taking on his current role at Cheals of Henley where he is working as a sous chef. The thing he loves most about cooking is to be able to take an ingredient that isn’t of expense or popularity and to turn it into something that is delicious.

Matt has wanted to be a chef since he was 15 years old and believes his love of cooking with his grandmother from a young age is what influenced him into this career path. As a 16-year-old, he took a lot of inspiration through the books of David Everitt-Matthias who won the National Chef of the Year title in 1996. As Matt has grown older, he has taken his inspiration more from what’s going on around him, such as his own dining experiences or the changing seasons.

What Matt loves most about competing is how it gets you away from the day to day routine of being a chef. It gives you the ability to draw on all your skillsets, past and present and he believes pushing yourself out of your comfort zone makes you a stronger chef. Being in the final of YNCOTY is an incredible feeling for Matt although he admits, a very nerve racking one. It’s inspiring for him to know this competition can help put your cooking infront of some of the industry’s biggest legends. 

Winning this competition would be a huge achievement for him and is something he has aspired to achieve since he first heard about it as a young college student. 

Preparation for this competition will be the make or break for Matt. He has competed in the British Culinary Federation Young Chef competition and also supported Adam Bennett during the 2015 Bocuse d’Or and this taught him that preparation is key. Once his dishes are planned, he will be using his days off to do full run throughs and taste testing to make sure he is happy with timings and the overall dishes. 

George Harding

George is currently working at The Atlantic Hotel in Jersey as a senior chef de partie. He trained at Pembrokeshire College in South West Wales, where he completed his three-year professional cookery course. After leaving college, he worked for Will Holland at the Coast Restaurant in Saundersfoot before taking a placement at Le Manoir for three months. He then returned to work at Coast for a further 18 months. His next move was to Bristol where he worked at Wilks restaurant for chef, James Wilkins before going back to work for Will after he had moved to Jersey.

George loves the challenges which working in a kitchen brings. He admits he would be lost without the kitchen structure and organisation that lies within it. However, his main reason for being a chef is making the customers that come to the restaurant happy with the food he creates. He loves helping make the memories that being around a dining table generates.

Being a chef is all he has ever wanted to do. After he finished school, his brother was doing his level two cookery at Pembrokeshire College, so George went in for some open days and loved it too. 

Chef Will Holland has played a massive part in his cooking career, helping him develop his skills and giving him the drive and confidence to go off into other kitchens and hold his own. Will was the one that introduced George to competitions when he was competing in National Chef of the Year. Plus, the time at Le Manoir and the love and passion that goes into the food there really opened George’s eyes and showed him the style of food he wanted to make. With chef James Wilkins he learnt a lot about new ingredients and working in a Michelin starred restaurant inspired him. 

George thrives on the pressure of having to get something prepared, cooked and plated in a certain time and then the relief of completing. The adrenaline rush at the halfway point in the semi-finals was a great boost and he can see why people get hooked on doing competitions. He also loves meeting all the other chefs that he’s competing against as well as the chefs judging.

He still feels shocked to have made the final as it doesn’t feel real. Winning would mean everything to him and he knows what a massive achievement it will be for both him and everyone who has supported him. When it comes to the day, he is just going to go and give it everything he has got and is taking this time to just think about the way he works and how to organise everything for the final. This is something the judges told him in the semi-finals he needed to improve on, so he’s taken their advice on board. Once he has the brief it’s going to be head down and serious planning for the dishes to take to the final in October. 

Jordon Powell

Young National Chef of the Year finalist, Jordon Powell is currently working at Tom Kemble at the Pass Restaurant in Horsham as a chef de partie. He was trained on the job at South Lodge Hotel and also took on a part-time course at Westminster Kingsway College for two years. He has worked at many other places around Sussex but most of his time has been spent at South Lodge Hotel working in the various departments.

What he loves most about being a chef is the constant learning and that no day is ever boring.When he was younger, Jordon always wanted to run his own business then growing up he discovered his passion for cooking so getting into the hospitality industry just felt a perfect fit.

When it comes to competing, Jordon loves how you get to test your skills against other chefs your age, as well as the networking opportunities it provides. 

Being a finalist in Young National Chef of the Year is an amazing feeling for Jordon who has worked so hard to get to this level and have the chance to compete. He is very excited for the final and winning would mean a lot to him. He has followed the competition for many years now and has always wanted to compete in the event and take home the title. He’ll be preparing over the coming weeks by staying behind the stove and working hard as soon as he gets the brief. 

Gercelynn Mae Dionio

Gercelynn Mae Dionio is currently a chef de partie at Restaurant Hywel Jones at Lucknam Park. Fresh out of college she went straight to Lucknam Park and she has been working there for the last four years.

She loves learning about different kinds of food, techniques and gaining another family in the kitchen team. Hywel Jones is her biggest inspiration and he has already played such a huge part in her career. She is most looking forward to competing in Young National Chef of the Year to be able to challenge herself as well as meet other competitors. When her name was called out as a finalist, she really didn’t expect it and was so shocked, overwhelmed and grateful. 

To take home the title would be a massive achievement for her as she recognises how huge this competition is. She’s going to be spending the coming weeks working hard to practise and will be giving it her all using everything she has learnt from Hywel Jones and the rest of the Lucknam Park team. 

Bethan Disley-Jones

Bethan is currently working at The Art School restaurant in Liverpool as an apprentice pastry chef. She is also studying for the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts Chefs’ Apprenticeship at the City of Liverpool College. The Arts School is herfirst full-time job since leaving school, although while studying for her GCSEs she worked on match days at Everton Football Club with her FutureChef mentor, Gareth Billington.

The reason she loves being a chef is it allows you to be creative. Pastry is what she is most passionate about and she’s lucky to work on that every day. She also loves that being a chef creates opportunities to work anywhere in the world.

Whilst Bethan didn’t really know what she wanted to do when she was growing up, she chose Food Tech as a GCSE and her teacher encouraged her to enter the FutureChef competition, which she was lucky enough to win. This gave her lots of opportunities like work experience at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons. It was such a wonderful experience that she knew this was the career that she wanted to do. 

During her career so far, Bethan has met so many inspirational people who have all been encouraging and offered their support. Particularly inspiring is her boss, Paul Askew who has given up so much of his time to get her career started. 

Bethan believes the best thing about competing is that you get to create your own dishes and try them on such well-respected judges. She has learned so much from entering competitions as you get to learn new techniques and skills. Competitions really test her and push her to put herself out there and become a better chef. She’s very excited about making the final and it wasn’t something she expected to be able to do as it’s such a big achievement. Whilst she admits she hasn’t really thought about winning she knows to take the title would be amazing. She will be trying to improve her skills in all areas as its mainly pastry she focuses on in her job so there will be plenty of practising over the next few weeks.  

William Keeble

The Young National Chef of the Year finalist, William Keeble completed two years of culinary training at Farnborough Technology College before taking on a role at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. He is currently working at Whatley Manor as a demi chef de partie. 

William loves being a chef because he enjoys working as part of a team in which everyone strives towards one goal. He grew up watching a lot of food programmes on TV and believes these inspired him from a young age to become a chef. Growing up it was all he wanted to do.

For William, Raymond Blanc is a big inspiration and he watched a lot of his programmes when he was younger. Having the chance to work for him for three years showed him just how passionate he is about the industry, which is something that William admires greatly.

With just a few weeks until the final of YNCOTY, William admits he likes the pressure of competing and believes it’s a good test to see where you are compared to other chefs of a similar age.Being a finalist is definitely a goal he can now tick off his list and it was an honour for him to be invited to compete in the semis. To make it through to the final is a massive achievement for him. 

Whilst for William, winning would be surreal it would mean all the hard work he has put in over recent years has paid off. He will be preparing for the final by doing as many run-throughs of his dishes as possible. This way when it comes to the big day, he can just focus on what he needs to do to impress those judges. 

Sam Everton

Sam is currently working as a senior sous at ‘Crwst’, which is a small restaurant located in Cardigan, West Wales. His culinary career started as a trainee at a restaurant called Hammet House. He then went to Pembrokeshire College and trained for three years, walking out with a Level 3 qualification. Sam then joined Wordskills UK and received some of the best training in the country, training at James Sommerin, Gidleigh Park, Launceston Place and the House of Commons and he had one-to-one training with Heston Blumenthal’s sous chef. 

One of the things Sam loves most about being a chef is the long hours as he loves working to his full potential and trying to push himself every single day. Sam has always wanted to be a chef for as long as he can remember, he even asked for a food processor for his 12thbirthday. That’s where it all started. He’s inspired everyday by different things, but the biggest inspiration so far is probably his mum and nan. They have always been good cooks and from a young age he would love to help them in the kitchen. 

When it comes to competing, Sam thrives on the buzz of the event. As soon as the timer starts, he gets in the zone and there is no better feeling than being fully focused with the adrenaline pumping. For Sam, competing in Young National Chef of the Year is a great honour. He has trained for competitions for the last three and a half years so to be a finalist in one of the biggest competitions in the country is a massive achievement, and he is really excited to be taking part.

Winning would mean so much to him, having spent years training in competition environments and he would love for all that experience to pay off and try and put Cardigan on the map. Sam will prepare for the final like he does most of his competitions. He’s hoping to practise hard and try and get as much flavour into the dishes as he can, work on his presentation and just enjoy the experience. 

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Bronwen Jenkins
Josh Ambridge

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