Celebrated chef Mark Sargeant has urged aspiring young chefs fighting for a place in the Young National Chef of the Year (YNCOTY) semi-finals to work from the "grass roots" up.
Sargeant, proprietor of Rocksalt in Folkestone and Gordon Ramsay's former right hand man, was recently named chef ambassador for the annual competition. He described 21st century innovation and new methodology as fantastic but emphasised that fundamental cooking skills were crucial to kitchen success.
"My worry is that young chefs today are getting confused by the sheer amount of modern techniques out there, but it's a bit like being a footballer," he commented.
"You wouldn't expect to go straight into the Premier League. You'd get your fitness up first and it's the same with cooking, start with the grass roots and build on that. I think the innovation going on today is fantastic, but it's imperative to learn to cook properly first. You need a mixture of both."
Sargeant, who earned a Michelin star as head chef for Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's, offered the advice as a past winner of the National Chef of the Year (NCOTY).
"It's a big honour for me to be asked to be the competition ambassador, and I'm particularly excited about mentoring some great chefs in the making," he said. "I won the Restaurateurs Association of Great Britain's Young Chef competition nearly two decades ago, which certainly opened doors for me.
"What I would say is that the young chefs who make it through to the semi-finals must remember a few key things. Keep it simple and make sure your main ingredients actually go together.
"Don't include too many items; the more you add, the more you will be judged on. The fact is that you can win a Michelin star with a relatively simple dish."
David Mulcahy, culinary director at Sodexo and organiser of YNCOTY and NCOTY, said: "I am delighted that Mark will be supporting the Craft Guild of Chefs this year for what promises to be one of the greatest young chef challenges in the UK.
"His enthusiasm, passion and commitment in encouraging the young rising stars invited to enter will definitely have a positive effect and, as a winner of the National Chef of the Year, Mark is well qualified to mentor competitors from his own first hand competition experience."
The semi-finals of YNCOTY are set to be held at Sheffield College on 18 June and the University of West London on 2 July to coincide with the NCOTY semi-finals.
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