Organised by the Craft Guild of Chefs, the NCOTY 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.
After a paper judging stage and four semi-final heats in Sheffield and London, the eight chefs who have made it through to the final stage of the competition have now been revealed. The winner of each heat and the next four highest-scoring runners up across all the heats made the cut.
Four contract catering chefs, three restaurant chefs and a hotel chef will now progress to a mentor day where they will receive tips and advice from sponsors and some of the panel of judges. The competitors will also discover the ingredients basket they will cook with at The Restaurant Show on 9 October.
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 and Simon Hulstone.
"It’s a great honour for me to not only judge but also to watch winning dishes being prepared," Philip Howard, chef and co-owner of The Square restaurant and chair of the NCOTY 2012 judges, said. "It’s fair to say that this year was a challenge to judge and the finalists are reflective of the high standards seen across the board. There has been some clear talent shining through with dishes full of both vitality and flavour as well as seasonality."
Alyn Williams, runner up last year to NCOTY 2011 Frederick Forster from Nuovo restaurant, won his heat to compete again for the top prize while the third placed finalist last time around, Hayden Groves from BaxterStorey, will also fight once more for the title.
Speaking to BigHospitality, Williams said "I felt like I was in with as good a chance as anybody but it is nice to come out as a winner." Williams won the first London heat after the Sheffield heats on 19 June - in all four events chefs had to cook a sea bass starter, lamb main and berries dessert.
"I had to rush back off to do service for lunch and I am about to go back and do dinner as well. We all want to win - this is probably the most prestigious UK culinary competition of the year. It is a 'Holy Grail' and if you enter it once and don't win you want to go back and do better."
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