Meet some of your National Chef of the Year Sheffield semi-finalists

The first National Chef of the Year semi-final takes place at Sheffield College tomorrow (Tuesday, 6th June) and we’ve got an incredible list of chefs in this first heat. Only the winner of the heat will be guaranteed a place in the live final at The Restaurant Show whilst the rest of the chefs will need to wait until the London semi-finals have taken place to find out whether they’ve made it.

Here’s a reminder of all the chefs competing in our first heat.

  • Ian Boden, development chef, Flourish Food Solutions
  • Jack Bradley, head chef, Temple Sowerby House Hotel
  • Ben Champkin, sous chef, L'Enclume Restaurant
  • Dan Graham, head chef, Talbot Hotel Malton
  • Tom Lawson, chef patron, Rafters Restaurant
  • David Stevens, conference and meeting sous chef, The Balmoral Hotel
  • Mathew Shropshall, chef lecturer, UCB - College of Food
  • Matthew Ramsdale. sous chef, The Chester Grosvenor
  • Dean Westcar, head chef, Restaurant Hywel Jones by Lucknam Park
  • Aled Williams, head of development and innovation, TRUEfoods
  • Liam McKenna, sous chef, Trump International
  • Jamie Coleman, head chef, Saunton Sands Hotel

We’ve been catching up with some of these chefs to find out how they’re feeling ahead of the competition, what they thought of the brief and what winning would mean to them.

Matt Ramsdale

You can follow Matt on Twitter @chefmattrams and Instagram @matt_ramsdale.

“I decided to enter NCOTY after watching and following the competition for several years. Seeing what idols of mine can achieve and seeing chefs go from humble roots to becoming the National Chef of the Year made me realise that could be me. You need to push to achieve the best you can. This year’s brief was tough, not all chefs like vegetarian food, and although I'm not one of them, veggie food isn't my strongest. But after some trial and error, I found what I believe is a beautiful combination. Duck and cherries is so classic that it was almost too simple, but I knew the judges were looking for flair and the chef to stamp his or her mark so I feel I've taken a risk. Let’s hope it pays off. Dessert was a comfortable area of mine, so a classic tart put a big smile on my face.

Getting an email letting me know I’d made the semi-finals made my jaw drop. To be selected, alongside some of the countries strongest and most talented chefs is an honour and to be part of it all has made me want it even more. I can't wait to get in the kitchen and show the judges what I can do. Cooking and creating is what I live for, food is my life, so I can't look forward to anything more than just cooking with everything I've got! To win NCOTY would be life changing. It would give me the drive and the confidence to help me be the chef I believe I can be one day.”

Ben Champkin

You can follow Ben on Twitter using @champkin7792.

“I thought I would give the NCOTY competition a go because I like to challenge myself, better myself and it's the first year I can enter within the age limit. I loved the brief this year and that’s one of the reasons I entered. It was very clear to me what the judges were looking for in this competition. When I found out I’d made it into the semi-final I felt very honoured to cook for some of the best chefs in the UK and compete against other great chefs. I’m looking forward to nailing the cuisson on my duck and delivering my dishes exactly how I have practiced them. Winning would mean everything to me. It would be a great achievement to be on the board with the elite of chefs. To say I've won the Young National Chef of the Year title in 2013 and NCOTY in 2017 would be incredible.”

Dan Graham

You can follow Dan on Twitter with @dangraham21.

“I originally entered the NCOTY competition as I feel I'm in a position where I can actually challenge to win it. After all what's the point in entering if you don't think you could win. I'm 35 and been a chef since the age of 16. I've worked so hard to get where I am but still don't feel I've had my big break yet. I'm hoping NCOTY can be the platform which I'm looking for. I was runner-up in MasterChef: The Professionals in 2009, however it was before I had Twitter or other social networks, so I’ve never really managed to promote myself from it.

I love the brief this year, being the age I am, I'm a very classically trained chef and the brief lends itself to the more classic base of chefs. Saying that, I still produce a modern British style of food but use the classic techniques I trained in to produce this style. I like the fact the starter is vegetarian as some of my best dishes are vegetarian. You can't get much more classical than duck with cherries and then a classic tart. I'll be using my experience from working for the Roux family to nail the dessert course, whilst giving it a modern twist.

I was so shocked when I found out I had made it through, I'm generally good at controlling my emotions but I was all over the place when I heard. I didn't know where to put myself, I was so excited but really scared at the same time. For the first couple of hours I felt sick and I'm still getting butterflies just thinking about it.

I think meeting all the chef judges is going to be my highlight. I've followed a number of them through the years, used their cook books and eaten in their restaurants. It's going to be hard not to be star struck to be honest but hopefully I don't make a fool of myself by asking for autographs.

I'd imagine that every chef in the competition will say the same thing about how winning would mean the world to them and how it will change their life. But at this stage in my career I don't see anyone wanting it more than I do. I suppose you could say it's now or never for me. I'll be giving it everything I've got to win the competition.”

Aled Williams

You can follow Aled on Twitter using @chef_aled

“I entered this year’s NCOTY as I believe it is one of, if not THE biggest competition open to professional chefs in the UK. It is very exciting to be up against some of the best chefs in Britain at the moment. The brief is clever as it is challenging us to take a lesser regarded vegetarian starter and pushing us to elevate our skills. The duck in the main course needs to have crisp fat but beautifully pink meat and it will go really well with cherries. Having a tart as a dessert is also difficult as there are so many techniques to get a perfect tart but nowhere to hide if it doesn't go your way on the day.

My wife rang me to let me know I was chosen to be in the semi-finals. I felt elated and excited to be given this opportunity to test myself against some great chefs. I am really looking forward to cooking for the judges as it's the ‘who is who’ of the industry. To be given praise and recognition by some of my culinary idols would be a proud moment. Winning the National Chef of the Year title would be the biggest achievement of my career, and there are many career highs I am proud of. I would also potentially be the first Welsh chef to do so and that would be an added incentive to be crowned the National Chef of the Year.”

Ian Boden

Keep up to date with Ian’s news by following @ianboden on Twitter.

“I have entered a few times before, and I made the final in 2008. I enjoy competing against some of the best chefs in the industry, it’s great to see what others are cooking and it’s great for networking. The brief for this year is interesting and I thought it was something that I could deliver well. I like some of the classic inspirations including cherry and duck, and a seasonal tart, it will be interesting to see how everyone interprets these. I’m most looking forward to seeing how I compare against the rest of the field and hopefully I will not embarrass myself. Having worked hard over the past 22 years it would be fantastic recognition from my peers in the industry to win this competition, especially as most of the judges are chefs that I greatly admire.”

Jack Bradley

You can follow @chefjbradley on Twitter.

I entered NCOTY last year and reached the semi-finals. It was such a worthwhile and fulfilling experience that it was impossible for me not to re-enter and I'm so happy I did. The brief this year is truly outstanding and very inviting. I can't think of a better brief for a chef wanting to prove their worth. When I got the news that I was through to the semi-finals I was elated. It's been a constant thought for almost a year and it is a privilege, one that I don't take lightly. I'm excited about every part of the next stage, and hopefully getting the dishes out perfectly. The thought of winning is indescribable. It would mean the world right now.”

Dean Westcar

Keep up-to-date with Dean’s news on Twitter by following @DeanWestcar.

I decided to enter NCOTY as I wanted to push myself, and see how I stood up against some of the best chefs in the country. The brief this year is great, not only testing basic skills but testing your creativity on brilliant simplicity. I was overwhelmed to hear I had made it through to the semi-finals. After applying before and not making the cut, knowing that I had ticked the right boxes this year put a massive smile on my face. This week I am looking forward to cooking my dishes for the judges and receiving their feedback. It’s always an honour cooking for chefs that have inspired you throughout your career.

Winning would mean everything! To be among the chef's that have won it in the past and following in their footsteps would be incredible. Knowing that the judges have enjoyed eating my food over the other chefs will feel surreal.”

David Stevens

Follow the tweets from David at @dcs_18.

“I entered the NCOTY competition to test myself against the best chefs in the UK. The brief for this year is really good for the amazing seasonal produce we have in Scotland. I was ecstatic to make it to the next round! I was told I had made it through by my girlfriend who also works in the hotel. I’m really looking forward to cooking my food for the judges in the next round. It will be very humbling to win and this would definitely be a career highlight.”

Tom Lawson

You can follow Tom on Twitter using @Lawson_chef.

“I entered NCOTY because I wanted a challenge that would push myself beyond my comfort zone and I thought the brief was excellent. As soon as I read it the ideas began flowing as to what I was going to cook. I really like the fact that the brief is so open-ended so I am excited to see how all the chefs have interpreted it in their own style.

When I found out I was in the semi-finals I was over the moon. I submitted my entry quite a while before the deadline so it has been a long wait to find out if I made it through. Now I am just looking forward to getting in the kitchen and cooking to the best of my ability. I am most looking forward to the nervous energy in the kitchen. There will be some fantastic chefs in the kitchen judging us and I am excited to show them what I can produce. Winning NCOTY would mean a huge amount to me. It is one of my life goals.”

You can follow the action of the semi-finals on Twitter from @Craft_Guild. Get involved with the competition using the hashtag #NCOTY and look out for the announcement of our first finalist in the afternoon. 

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