An impressive list of chefs has been whittled down from over 100 to just one with Steve Groves, head chef at Roux at Parliament Square, scooping the coveted National Chef of the Year 2020 title.
Ten talented chefs took part in the live two-hour cook-off at The Restaurant Show, and Derek Johnstone, head chef from Northwick Castle, took the runner-up spot, whilst Nick Smith, head chef at Vacherin, placed third.
Chefs had to create three courses in two hours and Steve served up a menu of red mullet, shellfish mousse and bouillabaisse sauce, followed by a main course of suckling pig, Jerusalem artichokes, quince, hazelnut and trompettes with Calvados Baba, honey poached pears and creme fraiche Chantilly for dessert.
This year’s judges were led by Gary Jones, executive head chef at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, who had a team of 19 chefs helping him find the winner. The list included Sat Bains, Clare Smyth, Claude Bosi, Jonny Lake, Philip Howard, Ollie Dabbous, James Petrie and former winners Alyn Williams and Simon Hulstone.
Sustainability and seasonality were the key focus points of this year’s brief which was put together by Gary Jones and competition organiser, David Mulcahy. Finalists were tasked with creating a bouillabaisse style flavoured starter using under-utilised fish. For the main course, chefs had to use cuts of suckling pig with the opportunity to pre-cook one element of the pig prior to the competition, ensuring it did not amount to more than 20% of the final dish. Finally, the chefs were asked to create an elegant dessert honouring seasonal pears, which showcased technical skill, balance and maximum flavour impact.
Straight after scoring the dishes, Gary Jones said: “We’ve seen some amazing cooking today. What stood out for me about Steve was his good, strong, clean flavours. He didn’t over complicate his menu and approached the brief well resulting in beautiful flavours. When it came to the main course, he served-up the best crackling in the room and I was salivating just looking at it.”
Knowing he now holds the title of The National Chef of the Year, Steve Groves said: “I am delighted, relieved and surprised. It was hard work and those two hours went by in the blink of an eye but I focused on the flavours of the dish. I am incredibly pleased to win this title and I can’t wait to celebrate with my team, who I couldn’t have done this without.”
Vice-president of the Craft Guild of Chefs, David Mulch, who organises the competition, added: “What an amazing final we’ve seen today! Firstly, congratulations to Steve Groves who has done an incredible job and now becomes a true ambassador for our industry. When you take this title, it’s about more than what you have cooked today as the chefs who have won previously are still some of the most talked about figures in hospitality. Each year, we make sure that the competition is truly relevant to today’s diners and is addressing industry trends whilst putting all our finalists firmly on the map. It’s known as the hardest culinary competition in the UK which is why this title is so sought-after and the one competition every chef wants to win.”
It’s not just the senior chefs who were in the spotlight as a new Young National Chef of the Year was also crowned. William Keeble, who is demi chef de partie at Whatley Manor, won the competition. In second place was Jordon Powell, chef de partie at South Lodge Hotel, and George Harding, senior chef de partie, The Atlantic Hotel, took the final place on the podium.
The 10 finalists were tasked with creating two different vegetarian or vegan canapes for the starter and a Norwegian cod main course appropriately garnished and served with an emulsified hot, warm or cold sauce. Finally, they served up a plated dessert using a classic Victoria Sponge as a base.
Hrisikesh Desai took on the role of chair of judges for the YNCOTY competition earlier this year and, alongside his team of 10 judges, has found one to watch in William Keeble. Commenting on the level of cooking, he said: “It wasn’t easy to decide the winner and it was extremely close, coming down to tiny details but I think we’ve got a fantastic winner. William balanced the flavour well and showed artistry in his work. He showcased a lot of skill elements that can be easy to mess up under pressure and on top of that his organisation was incredible. He was cool, calm and showed that he has practised and wanted to push himself to the absolute limit.”
Both of the winners have access to some amazing prizes. Steve not only takes home the title but also wins:
- The National Chef of the Year winner’s medal
- One-year’s membership to the Craft Guild of Chefs
- Thanks to Knorr Professional and Unilever Food Solutions, the 2020 NCOTY winner will have the opportunity to create their own digital recipe book as well as receive a media training session up to the value of £7,500, in addition to opportunities to raise their profile working with Unilever Food Solutions
- £1000 voucher to spend within the Lockharts’ range
- A chef’s tour of Lebanon – the three top chefs will win a culinary trip to Lebanon. They’ll have the chance to explore the region’s exciting food, wine and restaurant culture and bring some inspiration back to their kitchens. From Beirut’s innovative street-food to outstanding wines from the Bekaa Valley, there’s a whole world of stunning cuisine to discover
- Exclusively designed winner’s plate framed together with the winner’s medal as well as an additional prize of £500 worth of Churchill products.
- A bespoke Savernake knife
As the YNCOTY winner, William will enjoy:
- One year’s membership to the Craft Guild of Chefs
- The opportunity to grow professionally via a work development or trial session in a Michelin starred restaurant, valued at £2,500. In addition, they will promote this trial via an Instagram take-over and blog post with Knorr Professional and Unilever Food Solutions to further raise their profile
- He will join Michel Roux Jr for the culinary trip of a lifetime to Norway, in conjunction with Seafood from Norway.Over three exciting days in February 2020, they’ll celebrate the Skrei cod season (a seasonal Norwegian delicacy) at a beautiful fishing village with unrivalled local hospitality, plenty of fantastic food with fishing, hot tubs and hopefully sightings of the northern lights. On their return, the winner will have the opportunity to cook a signature Skrei menu at a high-level luncheon for press, chefs and industry members, hosted by the Norwegian Embassy and Michel Roux Jr
- As well as a product prize of £250 and a framed presentation plate, Churchill will also be taking the winner to a European city for a Gastronomic Experience trip
- A bespoke knife
Churchill ran its ‘People’s Choice’ prize to reward ‘Exceptional Presentation’. The award was presented to Bethan Disley-Jones for her main course in YNCOTY after receiving the most votes on social media.
The competitions are run in partnership with Knorr and Lockhart Catering Equipment and are supported by British Premium Meats, CCS, Churchill, Direct Seafood, Evolve Recruitment, HIT Training, Mash, Norwegian Seafood, OpenTable, Ritter Courivaud, Santa Maria, Sousvide Tools, UNOX, Quorn and WearerTech.