With less than two weeks to go before the final of The Craft Guild of Chefs National Chef of the Year competition, BigHospitality spoke to the competition’s judges to find out exactly what they’re looking for from the eight remaining candidates.
Following a preliminary round of heated cook-offs and four gruelling semi-finals, the final eight will be looking to impress the judging panel which includes Sarah Hartnett, Cyrus Todiwala, Philip Howard (chair) and David Mulcahy (vice-president). The final takes place on Tuesday October 9 at The Restaurant Show.
"The National Chef of the Year competiton has been running since the early 1970s and it's become one of the competitions to win for chefs," said Mulcahy. "In many cases it shows a chef's worth and capabilities becasue it pushes them to their boundaries."
Hartnett added: "The best advice to give anybody doing a competiton is to make sure you stick to the criteria they are asked for. I think you can get lost sometimes when you're developing dishes.
"If something needs to be a berry dish, the main feature of the dish needs to be berries, essentially - so don't make it too complicated."
The winning dish
Organised by the Craft Guild of Chefs, the National Chef of the Year is open to anyone aged over 23 who works in any sector of the catering industry from kitchens in restaurants, hotels and pubs to those working for contract catering organisations.
The winning chef takes home a prize worth more than £15k including cash, a study trip including dinner at a three Michelin-starred restaurant, master-classes and specialist chef’s products and equipment. Former winners of the coveted title include Gordon Ramsay, Mark Sargeant, Simon Hulstone and last year's winner Frederick Forster.
"The winning dish is going to be a delicious plate of food to eat because the tongue and the stomach don't lie," said Howard. "Over and above that, it's probably going to be something that looks really attractive and if you can intelligently weave in some modern technique that just lifts your dish above the rest, it's going to serve you well - but more often that not, those clever gimmicky things detract from the quality of the food."
Todiwala added: "Sometimes chefs forget that there's a certain level of simplicity that needs to be put forward rather than their skills.
"The judges have got years of experience with the way they judge; when you judge so many competitions, you become seasoned at them, so you look for things that a participant might try to hide, but the finalists must remember that they are giving the food to 15 different judges.
The eight finalists for the National Chef of the Year 2012 are:
- Andrew Wright, Restaurant 23
- Alyn Williams, Alyn Williams At The Westbury
- Joe Mccafferty, Roka Restaurant
- Paul Dunstane, Restaurant Associates
- John Howie, Sodexo Prestige
- Paul Matthews, Restaurant Associates
- Justin Galea, Turnberry Hotel
- Hayden Groves, BaxterStorey