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Young Chef Young Waiter: the talent to watch

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The competition to be crowned the best young chef or young waiter in the UK concluded this week at an awards ceremony recognising the next generation of talent in hospitality. Frances Ball spoke to some of the judges and winners

After a hiatus since 2012, Young Chef Young Waiter returned with a bang this year as the top upcoming talent in hospitality was awarded at a ceremony at the famous London restaurant, Quaglino’s.

The competition came to a head over two days of challenges, one of which was to create dishes using products made by sponsors Arla and Magnum. A shortlist of 40 was whittled down to 12 finalists – six chefs and six waiters.

Best of the best

The finalists had all displayed “exceptional talent,” former chairman of YCYW Robert Walton MBE told the audience. Across both categories of chef and waiter, the finalists – all of whom are under 26 – had shown themselves to be the ones to watch in the next generation, he added.

The first-placed young chef of the year was Richard Henderson, from Restaurant Hywel Jones at Lucknam Park – a “fantastic character and a really calm persona in the kitchen,” the judges said.

In second place was Ryan Baker from Northall Restaurant, Corinthia Hotel, and Lewis Glaister from Bluebird, Chelsea came third.

Among the prizes for the first placed winners, which were awarded by MasterChef’s John Torode, are mentoring calls for a year with American chef Thomas Keller, the only chef in the US to hold three Michelin stars at two restaurants.

Announcing the winners of the young waiter of the year was Simon King, himself a recipient of the top prize in 2000. In first place was Alessandro Calzavacca from Jean-Georges at the Connaught, a “clearly very passionate and also unbelievably composed” candidate.

The Fat Duck’s Salvatore Delle Donne and Andrea La Cognata were second and third respectively.

Recognising both sides of hospitality

Clare Smyth MBE, the first female chef in the UK to be awarded three Michelin stars and one of the judges of the competition, pointed out that the relationship between chef and waiter is “50/50. It’s so rare to see waiters celebrated like this,” she said, highlighting the strength of this competition in the hospitality industry.

Theo Randall, head judge of the chef competition and founder of Theo Randall at the Continental, reflected on the competition as the crowd milled around enjoying canapés and cocktails once the result had been announced.

“It’s so important to offer this encouragement to the talent coming up,” he said. “It’s a hard industry, despite the glamour. We need to celebrate that, and celebrate the passion of these people entering the industry at the start of their careers. I’m so glad that we celebrate waiters as well as chefs: service is half the equation.”

That was a sentiment echoed by the finalists themselves. Henderson, clearly over the moon, said that the award meant “the absolute world” to him as a young chef.

Ryan Baker, who placed second in the chef contest, summed up the benefits of a competition such as YCYW. “It rewards the people that take a chance”, he said. “It’s a hard industry to crack, and awards like this make all the difference.”

Frances Ball