James Devine started 'relatively late' in the industry - aged 20 - after throwing aside his plan to study law.
"Despite my acceptance to Queens University Belfast I opted to take a year out instead. During this time, I worked as a kitchen porter in a local restaurant and got the bug pretty instantly," he says.
Devine went on to work as head chef at the Black Cat Restaurant and Deli on the Green in Dungannon and as a part-time Culinary Art lecturer in local colleges.
He says: "While I instantly liked the industry, I was by no means naturally gifted or talented and spent the first few years covered in cuts and feeling sorry for myself. I admired Northern Irish chefs such as Michael Deane and Barry Smyth. Throughout my career, I’ve always had very simple ambitions of just being a good chef who is well respected amongst his peers and has a successful business."
Devine currently works under Danni Barry at Deane's Eipic and credits her with his decision to enter National Chef of the Year after she encouraged him to enter.
"Without her support I would never have believed I could get this far," he says. "This competition has been amazing given the standard of entries and the judges themselves. I’m enjoying every minute of it and really relish the thought of the final!"