Sponsored by the Craft Guild of Chefs
Chris Wheeler, Stoke Park
The level of responsibility on Chris Wheeler's shoulders is formidable. As executive chef at the five-AA-red-star Stoke Park Country Club, Spa & Hotel in Buckinghamshire, he oversees three restaurants: Humphry's fine dining, San Marco and the Orangery (including afternoon teas). He also runs the culinary operation for all events, including corporate golf days, spa days and Stoke Park's annual the Boodles grass court tennis competition, which delivers fine-dining cuisine to over 700 guests per day during the five-day event.
Wheeler is a man of diverse culinary talents, who is equally at home coming up with AA rosette-quality menus as he is creating dishes for the more-relaxed San Marco Italian brasserie.
He has also demonstrated strong business acumen, exercising excellent cost control and helping revenue to rise in all three of the restaurants that he oversees.
He is adept at fostering a positive atmosphere within the kitchen, and credits his team of waiters, porters and chefs with the restaurants' success, all of which has helped to keep kitchen staff turnover low. In fact, seven staff members have recently returned to work at Stoke Park under Wheeler.
The past year has been one of Wheeler's most successful so far. He won Best Fine Dining Restaurant at the Buckinghamshire Food and Drink Awards, and shared in the success of seeing the Boodles win Best Event Organised by an In-house Team at the EVCOM Awards (last November).
In addition to this, he made his debut appearance on the BBC's Great British Menu this year, serving up a series of highly creative dishes, including a main called The Ashes Over and Down Under, which featured an edible cricket pitch to celebrate the fact that England's cricket team currently holds the Ashes.
And Wheeler goes above and beyond his day-to-day role to help others, too. In September 2015, he had a pop-up restaurant at the Thame Food Festival, raising money for the Belazu Foundation, which helps to fund education in rural Morocco.
Earlier this year, he was also invited to be a patron for East Berkshire College and has fully embraced the role, teaching students how to make Humphry's dishes, as well as cooking with them for a gala dinner that served a full restaurant with 60 covers.
Wheeler has shown his sporting side by running both a 10k fun run and a half marathon for charity, while carrying a stock pot all the way around the course!
Overall, judges decided he was the most deserving of the chefs shortlisted, and chose him as the Hotel Cateys 2016 Hotel Chef of the Year (more than 250 covers).
What the judges said
"He is distinctive, intuitive, has masses of passion and lives the values of catering in hotels in general."
James Murphy, Grand Central hotel, Glasgow
"A well-deserved winner who has shown great consistency over the years. He has done incredible work since the refurbishment. He has also displayed immense leadership qualities, and this is highlighted in staff turnover and retention figures."
Henry Brosi, the Dorchester, London
"Chris Wheeler is a very worthy winner. He is an example of how having dedication can really pay off."
Lewis Hamblet, South Lodge hotel, Horsham
Ben Purton Lancaster London
Olivier Ruiz Park Plaza Westminster Bridge London
Chris Wheeler Stoke Park Country Club, Spa & Hotel, Buckinghamshire