Dylan Lucas, head chef and Darby Hayhurst, chef, at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust have been crowned the winners of the 2023 NHS Chef of the Year competition, in which finalists had to cook a four-course menu in four hours. Their winning menu consisted of Cauliflower Three Ways, Moroccan Spiced Cakes, Pan Fried Duck followed by a Choc, Rock and Pop Crumble.

Can you tell us a little about your current role?
Dylan: I am the head chef within East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust and I’m responsible currently for running a team of 15 chefs. This entails ordering and maintaining stock levels and so on. Also completing staff rotas, creating new menus for patients and staff and general kitchen duties.

Have you worked in hospitality for long?
Dylan: I have always worked in hospitality in a variety of roles from bar services to waiting on tables.

Darby: I have worked in pubs, restaurants and private catering companies picking up different catering styles and methods.

When and how did your passion for food begin?
Dylan: I enjoyed cooking once I got a feel for it and started to look at further training and opportunities.

Darby: I started cooking at home as my great grandma was a really good cook.

How did you get into the industry?
Dylan: I needed some part time work while I was studying. I looked at different jobs within the catering industry, then an opportunity came up as apprentice chef at a relative’s workplace.

Darby: I started as a kitchen porter and found food and cooking interesting, so I started an apprenticeship and attended Blackburn College.

What made you choose a career in hospital catering?
Dylan: It was a good career change and I’m enjoying what I do.

Darby: Covid forced my hand really, as hospitality businesses were struggling financially and as hospitals became busier, I wanted to help where I could.

What do you like best about working in hospital catering?
Dylan: I like the fact it’s challenging, very busy and a good place to build a successful career.

Darby: Knowing that you are helping people get better by making sure they eat healthily.

How did it feel to be crowned the winners of the 2023 NHS Chef of the Year competition?
Dylan: It was an incredible achievement for us. I have been working up to this moment ever since the competition was announced. I have entered the competition three years’ running and at every step, I learned and improved. Winning the competition puts you on the map and we have been humbled by the support and recognition we have both received.

Darby: Really happy with the outcome and enjoyed it. We worked long hours, making sure we did our best.

This is the second time in three years that chefs from East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust have won the competition. To what do you attribute this success?
Dylan: We have a fantastic brigade of chefs at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust with good culinary backgrounds. We’re looking at getting more competition wins in the future as this will inevitably highlight our success as a Trust.

Darby: I think passion, knowledge and experience – we have some excellent chefs at the Trust.

Tell us about East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, the food and the philosophy behind it?
Dylan: The food we cook here is virtually all locally-sourced fresh food. We don’t use salt in our cooking processes and follow the standards from the Soil Association.

Darby: We have to stick to a budget while producing the food, but we always make sure our meals have the right amount of nutritional content and still taste great.

How many meals do you serve a day, and can you give examples of the sort of dishes?
Darby: Over 500 meals a day but we still produce some good hearty meals such as veg chilli, beef lasagne and curry and rice.

Did you have any mentors?
Dylan: Our team mentor was Evan Welsh from Hobart who supported us in the competition from start
to finish.

Describe your cooking style?
Dylan: My cooking style can vary – I love cooking all different types of styles and love creating new dishes.

Darby: I’d say I am an all-rounder. I enjoy cooking and making a whole array of dishes and I’m always interested in learning and making new things too.

Who inspires you in the industry?
Dylan: Gordan Ramsay. I watched his TV programmes when I was growing up and found them inspiring.

Darby: I look up to all chefs – it’s not an easy job and we should all be proud no matter what level you’re at.

Would you encourage young people to enter the catering industry and if so, why?
Dylan: I would encourage young people because I think it’s a great career and can lead to numerous progressions within the industry.

What are the biggest challenges for hospital chefs at present?
Dylan: The biggest challenge for NHS chefs is waste management, as there’s a lot of pressure in maintaining waste levels.

Darby: Producing meals on a large scale, but also ensuring the right goodness is in those meals and always following recipes for allergens and special diets.

What trends do you think we will see this year?
Dylan: New trends would be using locally sourced in-season products to help maintain and work to a net zero goal in the future.

Any tips for our readers?
Darby: My main tip for readers is never struggle. All jobs and things in your personal life can be hard, so try talking to people – don’t suffer alone.

How do you relax?
Dylan: I like to relax by going to the gym, computer games on my PS5 and spending time with family.

Darby: My main hobbies are the gym – I like to attend at least five days out of seven – and spending time with family and friends, which is important.