Gary Jones reveals what the judges will be looking for in National Chef of the Year

As the search for a new National Chef of the Year (NCOTY) gets underway, the Craft Guild of Chefs is proud to announce its new Chair of Judges for 2017. Gary Jones, head chef at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons takes over the helm from Clare Smyth MBE who has led the judging panel for the last two years.

The competition is famed for its prestigious panel of judges and taking on his first NCOTY Chair duty, Gary reveals his advice for those hoping to wow the judges with a winning menu.

Gary Jones’ top tips for entrants

  1. Allow plenty of time to enter. We hear of so many chefs who would love to win this title but they get immersed in their day job which leaves little time before or after shifts to spare. However, NCOTY has a two-month entry window to ensure chefs have the time to develop their dishes, test them out, and devise a winning menu. So, get cracking with your entry as soon as you can.
  2. Absorb the brief. We include a lot of detail so make sure you read every aspect of it. This includes in-depth entry guidelines which show the criteria judges will be scoring against from skills to wastage and sourcing to seasonality. When you have finished your menu, look back at the brief and double check it. Online entries are shown anonymously to the judges so even the best chefs in the UK could miss out on a semi-final spot if they have missed a key element of the brief.
  3. Ask for advice from your colleagues. When you have a menu idea, talk to other chefs about it to get feedback. Be prepared to tweak the menu based on responses so you are 100% confident you have considered everything by the time you click the submit button. Most importantly taste it, does it work as a dish, as a flavour combination, as an eating experience? Has it got the wow factor?
  4. Keep it simple. If you earn your place in the next stage of the competition you must cook your menu in just two hours under the watchful and critical eyes of some of the biggest names in our industry. This will be in a hectic, unfamiliar kitchen at Le Cordon Bleu or Sheffield College so make sure your menu can be achieved within the time-frame. 
  5. Focus on culinary skills. The judges at every stage of the competition will be placing skills right at the top of their scoring agenda. When planning your menu, make sure that you demonstrate your skill whilst still producing a deliciously fresh and flavoursome plate of food. Brilliant simplicity is what the judges will be looking for.

To enter National Chef of the Year in 2017, chefs need to produce a creative menu for two guests to be served within two hours. The menu must consist of a vegetarian based starter, a duck and cherry combination main course and a classic tart as a dessert. Competitors will put their own interpretation on each dish with a strong focus on seasonality and sustainable sourcing of ingredients. Full details of the brief and an online entry form can be found at

Speaking about his new role, Gary Jones said “I am delighted to be the Chair of judges for NCOTY. It’s a competition that has been won by so many talented chefs, has an incredible panel of judges, and receives fantastic support from media, sponsors and partners. I’ll be working with the Craft Guild of Chefs to find new and exciting ways to drive this event forward, whilst ensuring that culinary skills continue to evolve in the UK.  It’s this focus on skill which makes the NCOTY title so credible, and one that so many chefs across the UK aspire to win.”

After taking the title in 2016, James Devine, adds “I was encouraged to enter NCOTY by my employers and having seen the record of winners, I knew that I wanted my name on it next. As soon as the entry process started I threw myself into the competition and used every spare minute I had to ensure that my name was called out as the winner last October. When you look at the calibre of judges at each stage, you know you’ve truly earned your place on that list of only 26 chefs. I’d recommend all chefs give themselves the opportunity to be part of this incredible competition.”

The competition is open to chefs who are 24 years or older on February 1st 2017. Competitors may come from all areas of the hospitality business including hotels, restaurants, pubs, contract catering, fine dining, private and public sectors and may be working in the UK or overseas.

Chefs have until Friday, 31st March, to submit their entry and a shortlist of 40 chefs for the semi-finals will be revealed on 19th May. This year’s heats will take place at Sheffield College on Tuesday, 6th June, and at Le Cordon Bleu in London on Tuesday, 20th June. Ten chefs will go through to the National Chef of the Year final, which takes place at The Restaurant Show on Tuesday, 3rd October.

The National Chef of the Year competition is run in partnership with KNORR, Lockhart Catering Equipment and SousVide Tools. It is supported by British Premium Meats, Cacao Barry, CCS, Churchill, Direct Seafood, Evolve, Mash, OpenTable and Ritter Courivaud. 

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