Launched in 1987, the competition takes place every four years. Hundreds have entered but only a handful of restaurant professionals have made the grade: a total of 20 chefs, 19 front of house professionals and just seven pastry chefs. The MCA's past winners make up some of the biggest names in the industry. Chefs include Steven Doherty, André Garrett and Jeff Galvin; restaurant managers Diego Masciaga, Emmanuel Landré and Thierry Tomasin; and pastry chefs Claire Clark, Benoit Blin and William Curley.
The Royal Academy of Culinary Arts (RACA) says the MCA title is conferred on those who have displayed mastery of the “complex and specialised knowledge and skills in culinary arts”. The competition is centred on a gruelling and unashamedly classical advanced technical skills test, but hopefuls must also demonstrate leadership skills, their ability to support the development of others and their capacity to act in the best interests of the culinary arts profession.
“It’s a tough but fair competition,” says Jeff Galvin, who obtained the title in 2013. “100 chefs entered the initial paper judging stage and 10 chefs got through to the final in 2013. Five passed. One of the tasks was to debone a whole turbot - and I mean literally take every single bone out - and fill it with scallop mousse. I’m a working chef but the physicality of the competition is one of the biggest challenges for a man of my age. You’re cooking under close observation for six hours. It’s intense.”
The competition is judged by a mix of past winners and other well know figures in the culinary world, for example the pastry chef competition will be overseen by chefs including Michel Roux (who holds the French equivalent of the award, the Meilleur Ouvrier de France), Michael Nadell, William Curley and Benoit Blin. Any number of finalists can succeed and there’s no overall winner as such.
“The MCA is the highest honour in the catering industry; it examines the very finest details in service, pastry and kitchen and is the pinnacle of each discipline,” says John Williams, executive chef at The Ritz and chairman of RACA. “For me, a Master of Culinary Arts is a person who strives for perfection in their profession and has the grace and elegance to promote our craft to the next generation.”
To enter the MCA candidates must be currently employed full-time within the United Kingdom as a chef, pastry chef or in restaurant management and service. Applicants must also have least 10 years full-time experience in their specific trade (not necessarily consecutively); a broad knowledge of traditional and modern gastronomy and service; and have undertaken a range of activities as part of their own continuing professional development.
The closing date for entries is 31 March, with finals taking place in September. The results will be announced at a dinner at Claridge’s on 15 October.