Jamian Lewis, head chef with De Vere Venues, has become the first British professional chef to win the final of the International Association of Conference Centres (IACC) Copper Skillet Awards. He spoke to Janie Stamford.
How did you get involved with the competition? First I had to submit a written entry: a three-course component of a buffet menu in line with a conference centre concept. The dishes had to be healthy, quick and fairly simple to eat to fit in with busy schedules. There were 40 applicants from the UK, who were shortlisted to a final eight for a cook-off, and from there I was selected to take part in the international final in Virginia.
What did the cook-off involve? We were given a mystery basket of ingredients and 45 minutes to conceive and cook our dishes. But we were only allowed limited equipment: one sauté pan, one small cooking pan, two knives, two bowls, one grater, one peeler, a squeezy bottle and just one gas burner. We had no oven or grill to work with. I prepared pan-roasted lamb medallions, seared scallops and crushed new potatoes with a rhubarb coulis finished with a carrot and coriander salad.
How did you find it? It's a real test of a chef's skills. We had no fancy equipment to hide behind; no water baths and foamers. There was a little bit of butchery and fishmongery involved, too, so it touched all areas. I had to draw from my knowledge of food and different flavour combinations. It was a really good challenge, which I'd definitely recommend. The award has raised my profile and hopefully it will open some doors for me in the future, but I'm very happy where I am right now. De Vere have been good to me.
How did De Vere support you? There was not much practice I could do, but I would go in early and stay after work, and I read a lot. I also did some training after winning the UK competition, including a stage with Andreas Antona, chef-patron at Simpson's restaurant in Birmingham.
How did you get into cooking? It's something I always wanted to do. My first cooking inspiration was my mum, and as soon as I left school I went to two catering colleges: Weald College, Harrow, and Westminster Kingsway, then worked in various places up and down the country. I reached head chef level at 22 at Browns in Mayfair and never looked back.