As the final for the Craft Guild of Chefs' National Chef of the Year 2015 competition fast approaches, reigning champion Russell Bateman tells Janie Manzoori-Stamford about his whirlwind year at the top
The countdown to the Craft Guild of Chefs' 2015 National Chef of the Year final is entering its last leg. With less than a month to go until the deciding cook-off, tension is mounting for the eight talented chefs vying for the sought-after title. Most are first-time finalists, while a couple were pipped to the post last year (see below), but all have their eyes firmly on the prize.
And what a prize it is. The competition has helped to give a boost to the careers of many of the chefs who have won it in the past, including Gordon Ramsay, David Everitt-Matthias, Mark Sargeant, Steve Love, Simon Hulstone, Hrishikesh Desai and, last year's winner, Russell Bateman.
As Bateman, head chef of Colette's Restaurant at the Grove in Chandler's Cross, Hertfordshire, gets ready to hand over the accolade to the next worthy winner, he reflects on what his 12 months as National Chef of the Year has meant not just to him, but to the restaurant and his highly valued team.
"Winning has been amazing. This year, for me, has been about meeting new people and having the opportunity to get my name out to a wider market. It's been incredible for raising my profile and giving me the opportunity to network at a higher level; with people like Bunzl managing director Matt Johnson, who I got to know on the trip to Dubai," he explains, referring to the study trip, courtesy of Continental Chef Supplies, that formed part of his package of prizes.
David Mulcahy and Russell Bateman at the Burj Khalifa
His other prizes included a £1,250 voucher towards the Lockhart product range; a year's supply of Knorr Bouillon; £1,500 worth of Electrolux Professional equipment; and a study trip to France, including dinner at three-Michelin starred restaurant Régis et Jacques Marcon in Saint-Bonnet-le-Froid.
Craft Guild of Chefs vice-chair David Mulcahy says the trip to France was an exciting highlight for Bateman, giving him the chance to go behind the scenes at food, wine and porcelain producers, showcasing the very best of what the region has to offer.
Lunch at Institut Paul Bocuse
"Russell was a delightful recipient and enjoyed himself very much. Everyone who attends learns so much and we are fortunate that our sponsors Lockhart and Revol embrace the competition and its winner in this way," he explains. "An added bonus this year was having our 2014 Young National Chef of the Year winner, Luke Selby, also accompany the group."
Meanwhile, Colette's saw an enviable uplift in trade and found itself listed in Tatler's Restaurant Guide for the first time, which Bateman describes as "a real spirit-lifter" for the team.
"Everyone feels as though they're part of it, and I couldn't have done it without their support. It encourages people to excel," says Bateman. "They can see your process and commitment and learn from it."
Sandboarding in Dubai
Bateman's competition success has undoubtedly gone a long way towards inspiring his chefs to try their hands at bagging some of their own with, most recently, demi-chef de partie Danny Hoang picking up a medallion for excellence for cooking at the WorldSkills São Paulo 2015.
The exposure that came with winning has also led Bateman to explore other opportunities that might otherwise have not come so thick and fast, such as an invitation to cook at the Vila Vita Parc Fine Wines & Food Fair held in Portugal. He was among 25 grand chefs from across Europe, collectively holding 33 Michelin stars, to cook at the stand-up dinner, and one of only two to take part from the UK.
Institut Paul Bocuse
Cooking demos at the International Food & Drink Event in London in March and radio work for BBC Three Counties have also come Bateman's way, as well as the chance to mentor chefs for caterer Sodexo's own Chef of the Year competition, which he went on to judge alongside 2012 National Chef of the Year Alyn Williams.
And to cap off what has undoubtedly been a whirlwind year for the talented young chef from west London, Bateman will be taking part in a series of Meet the Makers dinners at London department store Selfridges, among a line-up that includes the Typing Room's Lee Westcott and James Lowe of Lyle's (see below).
Once again, Bateman credits his staff for enabling him to explore these opportunities: "No head chef can excel or do anything outside the restaurant without their team. Other people will always form part of your success. Even Usain Bolt has a team to coach, support, advise and mentor him."
Meet the Makers pop-up
Russell Bateman will be cooking at the Corner restaurant and Champagne bar in London's Selfridges on 21 and 22 September as part of the department store's Meet the Makers series. Clare Smyth (Restaurant Gordon Ramsay) and Daniel Clifford (Midsummer House) will introduce the dinner on the first night, while Phil Howard (the Square) and Alyn Williams (Alyn Williams at the Westbury) will kick off proceedings on day two.
- Pork sandwich
- A crisp baked potato foam, caviar, poached egg yolk and chives
- Diver-caught scallop and apple tartare, oyster panna cotta, chilled celeriac consommé, coastal herbs
- Roasted veal sweetbreads, garam masala, black garlic, girolles and Scottish girolles
- Exotic fruits, roast cashew nuts, fromage frais mousse
- ‘Rocky Road', dense cake, ganache, marshmallows, almond tuiles, whipped white chocolate, fig ice-cream
- Hot madeleine served with chilled Jurançon milk chocolate, grapefruit and Indonesian pepper
Tickets for the four-course menu are £90 per person and can be booked at www.selfridges.com/MeetTheMakers
2015 National Chef of the Year finalists
- Andrew Ditchfield, pastry chef, House of Commons
- Paul Foster, head chef, Mallory Court
- Adam Handling, head chef, Adam Handling at Caxton (returning)
- Mark Kempson, head chef, Kitchen W8
- Luciano Lucioli
- Lawrence McCarthy, sous chef, the Ledbury restaurant
- Martin Carabott, sous chef, the Royal Automobile Club
- Larry Jayasekara, sous chef, Gordon Ramsay Group (returning)
Institut Paul Bocuse