We hear you currently have a rather punishing routine...
Yes. I’m working seven days a week. Two days at Restaurant Story and five days at my training kitchen at University College Birmingham. It’s a perfect replica of the Bocuse d’Or competition theatre. It was built for Adam Bennet [chef director at The Cross in Kenilworth] when he competed in 2013. I will only have five and a half hours to cook at the competition, so it’s important I know the kitchen like the back of my hand. You’ve got to be militant about it.
What’s the competition’s appeal?
I’m an extremely competitive person. I did a lot of organised sports growing up but I had to leave all that behind because kitchens are all consuming. I’ve done a few smaller competitions in order to channel that competitive energy. Competitions are great for self improvement because there’s always something you can take away from a competition, win or lose. It can help you raise boost your performance in a restaurant environment in terms of organisation, speed and efficiency. I’ve followed the Bocuse d’Or since I first started cooking. I did my apprenticeship at The Ritz. John Williams has a plaque on the wall from when he competed in 2001.
Where else have you worked?
After nearly five years at The Ritz I did shorter stints at Per Se in New York and also worked for Simon Rogan at L’Enclume. I joined the team at Restaurant Story as a sous chef last year. Tom (Sellers, Story chef-patron) has been very supportive. He knew I was down to do it when he employed me. My role at Story is now more concerned with R&D, which has given me the flexibility to train.
At 26 you are the UK’s youngest ever candidate...
I try not to think about that too much. It’s always seen as something to do a bit further down your career - most people that compete are head chefs running their own restaurants. The problem with that is that if people are responsible for a business they’re not necessarily able to train full time for over year. There are 20 countries competing in the Turin heats and I need to place within the top 10 to go through to the world final in Lyon. If I manage it I’ll be the second youngest person to ever compete at the final stage of the competition.
What are you going to be serving up in Turin?
I’m not allowed to say, but I’ll be tasked with creating a single plated dish and a more complex platter. Some of the ingredients are set - for example, the platter needs to use Italian beef fillet, veal sweetbreads and risotto rice - but I also need to champion British produce and cooking. So it’s a rather tricky brief.
Will the food be anything like what you cook at Restaurant Story?
Not really. First off, my style is different to Tom’s as we’re from different cooking backgrounds. I will also need to demonstrate my understanding of technique and my ability to work with lots of different ingredients. Simple, produce-led naturalistic cooking is great but it’s not a good fit for competitions. My time at The Ritz will be particularly helpful because chefs there learn an arsenal of classic yet still highly relevant techniques. I embrace modern techniques but everything I do is underpinned by classic technique.
Some say the Bocuse d’Or is a bit old fashioned and not representative of kitchens as they are today. What’s your view on that?
I’d massively disagree with that. The competition has modernised over the past decade or so. You see things at the Bocuse d’Or that appear in top end restaurants years later. It’s cutting edge stuff.
What equipment will you have access to in Turin?
The main cooking appliances are a combi-oven and double induction stove. You are allowed to bring smaller pieces of kit but space is tight, so you need to find equipment you can utilise for several different jobs. We will be using some less obvious kit, but I can’t say any more than that at the moment.
Who is your commis?
Nathan Lane, another ex-The Ritz chef. He’s done it before having competed in the European finals in 2016 with Anthony Wright. We did the national pre-selections together last year and obviously got through. We’re very like minded and work well together. He’s as obsessive about the Bocuse d’Or as I am. He wants to compete himself one day.