The UK team led by Adam Bennett, head chef at Simpsons in Edgbaston, Birmingham, has taken sixth place in the European final of the Bocuse d'Or and also collected the best meat prize and will now progress to the grand final in Lyon next year.
Despite coming two places lower than in the previous European final in Geneva, the UK team was celebrating progressing to the World final and being awarded the best meat prize for the chicken platter from Bennett and fellow Simpsons chef, Kristian Curtis.
Speaking to BigHospitality after hearing the results and collecting his prize, Bennett said the object of competing in Brussels was to qualify for Lyon and to do that and collect another prize was a great result.
"We are both novices at this, it is not something we have encountered before so to get that is a massive boost and it is inspiring to take forward to Lyon," he said.
The European final, held in Brussels, saw 20 teams of chefs compete from across the continent in a six-hour cook-off to prepare two platters, fish and meat. Just 12 countries progressed to the Bocuse d'Or World final in 2013.
Once again the first three places were dominated by Scandinavian nations with Norway scooping top prize followed by Sweden and Denmark. Denmark took the top prize at the world final of the competition last year and the country was also in the top three in the European final the year before.
The international culinary competition is considered one of the toughest challenges for chefs but Bennett said they had not been daunted and the experience had been exciting while watching the other leading nations compete had taught them a lot ahead of Lyon.
"It is actually a real buzz when you are doing it, it is a big adrenaline rush. Most chefs like that kind of thing so we enjoyed it. Now I have seen the competition, all the bits are starting to fall into place. I feel much more ready mentally to go on with the next stage," he said.
Next stop - podiums
Bennett and Curtis were mentored by coach, Nick Vadis, UK executive chef of Compass Group and supported by Brian Turner, UK Bocuse d’Or judge and president of the Academy of Culinary Arts. Turner, who Bennett said was a great moral support and gave the team good technical advice, told BigHospitality the team was progressing.
"We could go a long way because we have never had any money, we have got a bit more money behind us now and we have got people supporting us and we have got a good team. It has been a real team effort, we are slowly going forwards - next stop the podiums," he said.
The UK team has been boosted this year by a number of sponsors and the use of a professional training kitchen at University College Birmingham (UCB) which Bennett's boss allowed him time off to work in to train for the competition. Turner said the UK was getting closer to being able to take the top prizes in the World final and was focused on constantly improving and winning it in the next 2-3 years.
Bennett said the Scandinavian nations had built a solid base which allowed them to dominate the competition but the UK was now starting to build that base.
After celebrating with some Belgian beer, Bennett said the next stage was to return to the day-job, begin working on strategy and collecting silverware and equipment for Lyon. The team will now have to wait till the Summer to find out what they will be required to cook for the World final which Bennett said would represent another step-up in terms of pressure.
Twelve nations progress from the European final to the World final in Lyon: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, France, UK, Switzerland, Belgium, Hungary, Poland, Estonia and The Netherlands.