National Chef of the Year finalists announced

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A strong focus on sourcing and seasonality, innovation and creativity are the key ingredients in creating a National Chef of the Year finalist

Following a series of exciting cook-offs at Sheffield College and Le Cordon Bleu, the Craft Guild of Chefs has revealed its ten talented chefs for the National Chef of the Year final. Under the watchful eyes of some of the culinary world heavyweights, four heat winners and six runners-up cooked up a storm to take their place in the UK’s most prestigious culinary final.

Last week, Derek Johnstone, head chef at Borthwick Castle, took the first place in the NCOTY final when he won the Sheffield heat. On 19 June he was joined by fellow heat winners, George Blogg from Gravetye Manor, Glenn Evans from Las Iguanas and Liam Fauchard-Newman who works at Rhubarb/Fenchurch.

Joining them at The Restaurant Show on 2 October are the six chefs who received the next highest scores across all four heats. These chefs were named as Martin Frickel from The Forestside, David Neilson who works at Number One at the Balmoral, Nick Smith from Harbour & Jones Ashurst, Kuba Winkowski from The Feathered Nest Inn, Stefan Sewell from CSCAT, Thomas Westerland who works at Lucknam Park.

Exceptional cooking

Chair of judges, Gary Jones, executive chef from Belmond Le Manoir said: “What a week it’s been for the National Chef of the Year competition. Some of the cooking has been exceptional which made it a challenge for the judges to whittle 40 chefs down to just ten. What really stood out for me was how much the finalists listened to the brief this year and focused on the sourcing of their ingredients, considered seasonality when planning their menus, as well as showcasing their creativity and innovation. It’s set to be one of our most exciting finals yet and I can’t wait to judge it in October.”

Organiser of the competition and vice-president of the Craft Guild of Chefs, David Mulcahy added: “It wasn’t an easy brief this year with a vegetarian starter thrown into the mix and a very classic dessert brought in to truly test each chef’s culinary skills. However, the semi- finalists really embraced the challenge when putting together their menus. We saw a real variety of menus and this showed the diverse range of chefs we had from all sectors of hospitality.

“For those who didn’t make the top ten, I hope they have really learnt from this experience, and come back and try again next year. Whatever stage you get to, NCOTY helps every chef to grow and develop in some way.”

Before the final, all ten chefs will take part in a Mentor Day on Tuesday, 11 September where the mystery basket of ingredients will be revealed. Some big names have already been confirmed to judge the final exam which takes place at The Restaurant Show on Tuesday, 2 October including Tom Kerridge, Clare Smyth, Philip Howard, Ollie Dabbous and Mark Flanagan.

Young talent

At the awards ceremony, the organisers also revealed the six talented young chefs taking the Young National Chef of the Year final spots. This included heat winner from Sheffield, Jamie Mackinnon who works at The Seafood Restaurant in St Andrews. He was joined by the London heat winner, Henry Wadsworth from Belmond Le Manoir. Claiming the remaining places in the YNCOTY final are Jonathan Ferguson from Restaurant Andrew Fairlie, Thomas Reeves who works at L’Enclume, Arron Tye from Grosvenor Pulford and Aaron Middleton who works at The Above Restaurant.

These six chefs join Gilles Varone who works at Petrus and was the Highest Achiever in the Craft Guild of Chefs’ Graduate Awards, Luke Turner from L’Enclume who won the British Culinary Federation Chef of the Year and Supatthra Viriphan who works at Chewton Glen and represents World Skills. The final place will be the winner of the Academy of Culinary Arts Awards of Excellence which will be announced in July.

Following the Young National Chef of the Year heats, chair of judges, Mark Sargeant commented: “I know I say it every year, but these young chefs really could compete with the senior chefs. In all the years I’ve judged, I don’t think I have ever seen such enthusiasm and energy from a group of young chefs in a competition. It was incredible to see the level of food they put out in just 90 minutes. Hearing about where their ingredients had come from and their overall knowledge of sourcing and seasonality was really inspiring and the future is definitely in safe hands with so much young talent on its way through.”

Further details:

You can find out more about the competition and follow the progress on Twitter with @Craft_Guild and #NCOTY and on the website at www.nationalchefoftheyear.co.uk.

Karen Fewell