The 10 finalists have been announced for this year’s much-anticipated National Chef of the Year competition and with the final only a couple of months away, Dee Laffan chats to each chef to find out what it’s like to be in the race for such an accolade.
The National Chef of the Year (NCOTY) is seen as the UK’s most prestigious contest for up-and-coming culinary stars in the industry. Run by The Craft Guild of Chefs, the largest UK chefs’ association with members worldwide in food service and hospitality, this highly respected competition has previously seen chefs Gordon Ramsay, Alyn Williams and Mark Sargeant triumph as winners. In addition, The Young National Chef of the Year competition, which runs simultaneously, has also announced their finalists.
As well as competing in The National Chef of the Year final in October, the chefs will attend a Mentor Day on Tuesday, 5th September where they will be presented with a mystery basket of ingredients to be used in the final.
The 2017 finalists of this skilled and highly competitive culinary contest are as follows:
Ben Champkin, sous chef at L’Enclume and Young National Chef of the Year 2013 winner.
Ben was announced as the first chef to make the finals when he won the first heat in Sheffield.
“There have been very high standards across the semi-finals, but I just kept my head down and worked extremely productively with my commis chef Spencer Metzger and delivered in the way we had practiced our run-throughs. The most important factor for the semi-finals was to read and keep re-reading the brief to ensure I ticked all the boxes for what they were looking for,” said Ben.
Winning would mean everything to me; being able to put myself among the list of previous winners would be a dream, seeing their success, it would only spur me on to make sure I make the most of my career and follow in their footsteps.
David Davey-Smith, chef from Royal Air Force Worthy Down.
David won heat two, which took place at Le Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London.
“I really love competing and for me this is the highest level of competition. The calibre of chefs is crazy and to come away a heat winner was an absolute dream. There have been a lot of late nights and early mornings preparing around my day job, so to get to the next stage has given me real belief in my cooking,” said David.
For me, it’s all about trying to build different levels and flavour profiles. Each ingredient is thought about and there for a purpose.
“I’m fully focused on the final now and practicing recipes for the mystery box. To join the list of previous winners would be an honour, I would be very humbled and it would be a story I could bore the grandchildren with (when I have them!).”
Karl O’Dell, senior sous chef from Petrus – Gordon Ramsay.
Getting this far is amazing, but winning would be the best achievement of my career.
“The competition has been tough, I was up against some great chefs. Luckily I managed to get the dishes out on time… I think I had about 15 seconds left on the clock when I got my dessert up!” said Karl.
“When creating the dishes I wanted them to be light, well balanced and to exemplify a British summer as much as possible.”
Thomas Westerland, sous chef from Lucknam Park.
Thomas won the final heat – “The most important factor for me has been the flavour in the final execution. When creating the dishes I have always planned the final flavour and then worked with my ingredients to find out how to get there,” said Tom.
“I am so happy to be through to the finals considering the calibre of the chefs in the semi-finals. It was a really tough day, but was amazing to meet some new chefs. To win the final would mean everything to me.”
It would prove that all the long hours and hard work are worth it. It would mean so much to be listed with such inspirational previous winners; as an ambassador for the industry I would also like to think that I could inspire others to enter in the future.
Joining the four heat winners will be six runners-up, who scored the highest points across all four of the heats.
Dean Westcar, head chef at Restaurant Hywel Jones by Lucknam Park.
The competition has been tough, close and impossible to call, but fun and exciting at the same time!
“It’s important to follow the brief – brilliant simplicity, finding the best produce and showing it off on a plate in my own way,” explained Dean.
“Coming out on top against the calibre of chef in the final would be extraordinary, it would be by far my greatest achievement to date! It would mean the world to me.”
Luke Selby, head chef at Dabbous.
“It would mean a huge amount to me to win this competition” said Luke.
To have my name alongside the amazing list of past winners would be a huge honour.
“There is a really high standard of guys in the competition and it’s been a lot tougher than I anticipated, so I will step up my game for the final!”
Simon Webb, head chef at Restaurant Associates.
“I enjoy the pressure and the buzz; I had no commis chef in the semi-final, which was tough, but it made me push a bit harder and concentrate more.” said Simon.
I’m excited to see what the mystery box is in the final, to cook my best and hopefully stand out
“I have really been inspired by everyone I have worked alongside, but being able to work alongside Simon Hulstone (a previous winner), while representing the English National Culinary Team was a high for me. Competing around the world certainly inspires you to better yourself and gives you inspiration for dishes.”
Kuba Winkowski, head chef at The Feathered Nest Inn.
So far the competition has been like a roller coaster ride – quite an emotional one!
“After initial panic, overcoming quite a few obstacles and trying to fit it all in, with a very tight schedule of running a busy kitchen, it all went very well on the day, explained Kuba.
“I do my job because I love it and, even in the hard moments, I am still happy that I once made that decision to be a cook. Everyday I spend a lot of hours in my own environment where sometimes it is hard to say how good I am, how do I compare to other chefs in the UK. Winning NCOTY would be a massive reward for all the hard work over the years, but also a big thank you for all the people who’ve spent their time to teach me and helped me get to this point of my cooking life.”
Will Holland, head chef at Coast Restaurant.
“I’ve really enjoyed the whole experience so far. The semi final in London was a mad experience and the kitchen was a crazy environment to be in.” said Will.
It’s not until you take part in it that you realise who you’re up against and the incredibly high standard of competition you’re in the mix with.
“When I designed my menu, I wanted my dishes to showcase my skill set and highlight my skill level as a craftsman and chef. I made sure there was a lot of technique in each dish and that I pushed myself in the time allowed, but also the dishes allowed me to have fun and demonstrate how much love I’ve got for what I do.”
Adam Thomason, head chef at Restaurant Associates – Deloitte.
“I really wanted to create dishes that are simply delicious, concentrating on flavour, flavour, flavour! The rest will follow,” explained Adam.
“Winning this competition has been a career goal of mine for over 10 years of now. This year, there has been a really high level of competition. The heats were intense, but it made for a brilliant atmosphere and experience.”
I’m looking forward to the final!
You can find out more about the competition, see the finalists for the Young National Chef of the Year and follow the progress on Twitter with @Craft_Guild and #NCOTY and on the website at www.nationalchefoftheyear.co.uk.
Photos courtesy of The Craft Guild