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UK National Chef of the Year 2020 winner revealed

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Steve Groves, head chef at Roux at Parliament Square, takes main title; Whatley Manor's William Keeble wins Young National Chef of the Year

Steve Groves, head chef at Roux at Parliament Square, has been selected as UK National Chef of the Year 2020 in a competition organised by the Craft Guild of Chefs at The Restaurant Show in London.

Groves was presented with the award following a closely fought battle between ten highly rated chefs aiming to take the top spot in a live two-hour cook-off.

Derek Johnstone, head chef at Borthwick Castle, took the runners-up spot, while Nick Smith, head chef at Vacherin, placed third.

Sustainability and seasonality

The ten chefs had to create three courses in a two-hour period. Groves served up a menu of red mullet, shellfish mousse and bouillabaisse sauce, followed by a main course of suckling pig, Jerusalem artichokes, quince, hazelnut and trompettes with Calvados Baba, honey poached pears and creme fraiche Chantilly for dessert.

Judges were led by Gary Jones, executive head chef at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, who had a team of 19 chefs helping him select the winner. The list included Sat Bains, Clare Smyth, Claude Bosi, Jonny Lake, Philip Howard, Ollie Dabbous, James Petrie and former winners Alyn Williams and Simon Hulstone.

Sustainability and seasonality were the key focus points of this year’s brief, which was put together by Jones and competition organiser, David Mulcahy. Finalists were tasked with creating a bouillabaisse-style flavoured starter using “under-utilised” fish.

For the main course, chefs had to use cuts of suckling pig with the opportunity to pre-cook one element of the pig prior to the competition, ensuring it did not amount to more than 20% of the final dish. Finally, the chefs were asked to create an elegant dessert honouring seasonal pears, which showcased technical skill, balance and maximum flavour impact.

“We’ve seen some amazing cooking today,” said Jones, following the scoring of the dishes. “What stood out for me about Steve was his good, strong, clean flavours. He didn’t over complicate his menu and approached the brief well, resulting in beautiful flavours. When it came to the main course, he served-up the best crackling in the room and I was salivating just looking at it.”

Groves described himself as “Delighted, relieved and surprised” upon receiving the award. “It was hard work and those two hours went by in the blink of an eye but I focused on the flavours of the dish. I am incredibly pleased to win this title and I can’t wait to celebrate with my team, who I couldn’t have done this without.”

Vice-president of the Craft Guild of Chefs, David Mulcahy, who organises the competition, described the final as “amazing”, congratulating Groves for doing “an incredible job and becoming “a true ambassador” for the industry.

“When you take this title, it’s about more than what you have cooked today as the chefs who have won previously are still some of the most talked about figures in hospitality. Each year, we make sure that the competition is truly relevant to today’s diners and is addressing industry trends whilst putting all our finalists firmly on the map. It’s known as the hardest culinary competition in the UK which is why this title is so sought-after and the one competition every chef wants to win,” said Mulcahy.

Bloom of youth

The event also saw the awarding of the Young National Chef of the Year (YNCOTY) to William Keeble (pictured below), demi chef de partie at Whatley Manor. Second place was taken by Jordon Powell, chef de partie at South Lodge Hotel, while George Harding, senior chef de partie, The Atlantic Hotel, took third place.

The ten finalists were tasked with creating two different vegetarian or vegan canapes for the starter and a Norwegian cod main course appropriately garnished and served with an emulsified hot, warm or cold sauce. Finally, they served up a plated dessert using a classic Victoria Sponge as a base.

“It wasn’t easy to decide the winner and it was extremely close, coming down to tiny details but I think we’ve got a fantastic winner,” said chair of the judges for this award, Hrisikesh Desai.

“William balanced the flavour well and showed artistry in his work. He showcased a lot of skill elements that can be easy to mess up under pressure and on top of that his organisation was incredible. He was cool, calm and showed that he has practised and wanted to push himself to the absolute limit.”

Competition sponsor Churchill also ran its ‘People’s Choice’ prize to reward ‘Exceptional Presentation’. The award was presented to Bethan Disley-Jones for her main course in YNCOTY having receiving the most votes on social media.

The competitions were run in partnership with KNORR and Lockhart Catering Equipment and supported by British Premium Meats, CCS, Churchill, Direct Seafood, Evolve Recruitment, HIT Training, Mash, Norwegian Seafood, OpenTable, Ritter Courivaud, Santa Maria, Sousvide Tools, UNOX, Quorn and WearerTech.

About Craft Guild of Chefs:

The Craft Guild of Chefs is the largest UK chefs’ association with members worldwide in foodservice and hospitality, from students and trainees to top management working everywhere from Michelin starred restaurants to school catering divisions.