Northern Irish chef James Devine’s feet haven’t touched the ground since winning the National Chef of the Year 2017 title. We caught up with the sous chef at EIPIC in Belfast to find out how the victory has changed his life…

Congratulations on winning the Craft Guild of Chefs’ National Chef of the Year. Has it sunk in yet? How does it feel? Did you ever imagine you might win? Even now, it still feels incredible, people ask if I’ve come down from Cloud 9 but I tell them I’ll come down when I’m good and ready! I was extremely honoured and proud to win the competition, I always thought I was capable of getting to the final but winning it outright was something I only ever dreamed of.

How would you describe your style of cooking? My style of cooking is quite simple and uncomplicated, I don’t say that because it sounds good, it’s because I’m actually a pretty average chef and keeping things straightforward usually helps disguise any short comings.

How important is it for the Northern Irish culinary scene for a Belfast chef to scoop this top accolade? Northern Ireland right now is in a state of transition, with the standard getting stronger each year. We have two Michelin star restaurants in Belfast city with other really strong places just outside such as Noble in Holywood and Wine and Brine in Moira. I hope that together with the good work being done in these places, winning the NCOTY will maybe give us a greater level of respect from chefs across the water.

What do you love about entering culinary competitions? For me the best thing about cooking competitions is actually the months leading up to it. That’s usually the bit that separates the winners from the losers! I like to enter a state of intense focus and total obsession! It’s not for everyone but I genuinely enjoy a situation with the odds completely stacked against you and the only edge you have is how much you’re willing to sacrifice – time, sleep, money, friends, social skills, to name but a few!

How will this award enhance your career? This award has already enhanced my career massively. Twitter and Facebook alone have been crazy – I’ve never been so popular! I look forward to seeing what the coming year has in store.

You were a quarter-finalist in BBC’s MasterChef the Professionals in 2013. How did you enjoy the experience of being on the box? I really enjoyed being in MasterChef, it’s still quite a raw nerve if I’m honest! Being knocked out still remains one of the worst days of my career to date. But all losses make you stronger I guess.

Michel Roux Junior referred to you as a “thinking chef”. What do you think he meant by that? It was such a massive tick off the bucket list to cook for Michel Roux Jnr, meeting him on set remains a personal highlight. He was such a gentleman. I think and hope he meant that I take an idea or a dish or concept and I think about how I would like to make it my own. As I mentioned I like to focus and obsess and being original is part and parcel of that process. And on a side note if you make an idea your own, people can’t correct it because you become the authority in it! Once again a means of hiding my mediocrity.

In the light of your new award, would you consider more TV chef work? Yes, I’d completely love to do more or any TV work. I think average chefs make the best presenters so I’d fit right in.

You previously said you hope to open your own restaurant in Tyrone one day. Are you any nearer to achieving that goal? Why Tyrone? No unfortunately Tyrone just isn’t ready for the style of food I’d like to do. I really love my home town and I’m a very proud country man, but Belfast is where my future is and I hope to have my own place open within the next year.

And now for three questions that we ask all of our Leading Lights…

1. What are your three kitchen secrets? i) Stay hydrated with plenty of water and tea. ii) Always admit when you’re in the wrong if you’ve messed up. iii) Lead by example, even when it stings.

2. What is your favourite ingredient and why? Potatoes – totally Irish response but they are amazing! If you need any more proof, see Mark Abbott – Great British Menu.

3. Please could you share your favourite recipe, along with your reasons for choosing it? Rib of Beef, puy lentils and watercress – my winning main course from the National Chef of the Year final!

Rib of beef, braised Puy lentils and watercress


300g Rib of beef

Sea salt

4 x Heritage carrots

10g Thyme Garlic, 1 clove

100g Puy lentils

50g Celeriac

1 x Shallot

5g Parsley

5g Chives

5g Knorr beef stock

100ml Red wine

20g Watercress


1. Remove excess fat from rib and render down in pan, use this fat to cook the heritage carrots, add a little water, thyme and garlic and cook 15-20 minutes over low heat until tender.

2. Boil lentils in salted water 12-15 minutes until just cooked, drain and refresh in cold water.

3. Dice the celeriac and shallot and sweat off in butter, add the cooked Puy lentils, stew for a few minutes before finishing with some butter and soft herbs.

4. Seal the beef on all sides in hot pan, until well coloured all over. Transfer to oven 180°C for five minutes. Remove and rest for further five.

5. Carve and serve. Assemble all ingredients on plate and finish with fresh watercress.