Larry Jayasekara, sous chef at Petrus, has taken the title of National Chef of the Year 2016.
He saw off stiff competition from seven other chefs in a tense final held this afternoon at the Restaurant Show, Olympia, which competition chair and chef-patron of Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Clare Smyth, described as extremely difficult to judge.
She said: "Larry had three really good dishes, which is what wins the competition: precision cookery, it has to be simple in three hours, and just executed perfectly. He was calm; he was organised [and produced] simply beautiful dishes.
"This is Larry's third time doing the competition. He knows what he's doing. He takes it really seriously and there couldn't be a more deserving winner."
Jayasekara said: "It feels amazing. I came to the UK 14 years ago from Sri Lanka and I didn't have any cooking knowledge.
"I went to work at Gordon Ramsay Holdings [GRH] after two years in college and it was eye-opening. Every year I walked past the National Chef final and I always wanted to enter but thought I wasn't good enough because of the level of people cooking in the final.
"Three years ago I entered for the first time and I got to the final. Last year I entered again and I thought having a bit of experience would help, but I didn't manage to get across the finish line. The judges told me I had one standout dish but I needed three courses.
"Without all the talented people at GRH and the support of my family, I couldn't have done it. They helped me to push boundaries and focus on the flavours.
"My plan for today was to get three consistent plates of food out to the judges, who between them have something like 28 Michelin stars. They're some of the best chefs in the world. Cooking for them was an honour. It's not about winning; getting their feedback was incredible and will make me a better cook in the future."
Larry Jayasekara's menu
Lobster with red pepper and cardamom, leek, fresh yogurt and lemongrass
Roast loin of venison with celeriac and nutmeg purée and a lardo and blackcurrant ravioli parcel
Chocolate cremaux, roasted pear and coffee
Paul Foster of Mallory Court was placed second in the final, while Martin Carabott from the Royal Automobile Club on Pall Mall took third place.
The other finalists were: Lawrence McCarthy, sous chef at Brett Graham's two-Michelin starred Notting Hill restaurant the Ledbury; Andrew Ditchfield, pastry chef at the House of Commons; Adam Handling, head chef of at Restaurant Adam Handling at Caxton, at St Ermin's hotel in Westminster; Mark Kempson, head chef of Michelin-starred Kensington restaurant Kitchen W8; and Luciano Lucioli, head chef at Marks & Spencers headquarters on behalf of caterer Lusso, part of CH&Co Group.
Adam Handling won the Churchill Best Presentation award, which was voted for by the public.
The competition featured a stellar line-up of judges including Clare Smyth, Philip Howard, Stephen Terry, Jocelyn Herland, Paul Ainsworth, Claude Bosi, Daniel Clifford, James ‘Jocky' Petrie, Graham Hornigold, Gary Jones, Sat Bains and Hideko Kawa, as well as competition organiser and vice president of the Craft Guild of Chefs David Mulcahy.
By winning the competition, considered one of the UK's most prestigious culinary challenges, Jayesekara took home national acclaim and a haul of prizes, including an exclusive study trip at a three-Michelin-starred restaurant in France.
Making it through the paper entry stage, 44 of the UK's top chefs were this year selected to compete at a series of semi-finals in London and Sheffield in a bid to make the final eight.
Past winners of National Chef of the Year include Gordon Ramsay, David Everitt-Matthias, Mark Sargeant, Simon Hulstone, Alyn Williams, Hayden Groves and, most recently, Russell Bateman.