Iain Sampson, head chef at Peterstone Court Country House in Llanhamlach, has won the National Chef of Wales title after triumphing at the Welsh International Culinary Championships last week. James Stagg asked him how he came to be crowned the best chef in Wales.
Caterer: How is the competition run?
Iain Sampson The night before the competition we were given a black box of ingredients, from which we had an hour to come up with a four-course meal to cook the next day. It's pressure but good fun. You look at the ingredients and obvious things jump out, but you then end up changing your mind 20 times in the hour. The menu needs a certain amount of description, but it's best to leave it a little bit loose so that you can tweak things on the day.
Caterer: What was on your menu?
IS I opened with a starter of galantine of guinea fowl with pancetta, artichoke and mushroom followed by fennel and saffron soup with red mullet. Main course was cutlet, shoulder and kidney of Welsh lamb with potato purée and confit of root vegetables. Dessert was dark chocolate fondant with banana and ginger ice-cream and passion fruit syrup.
Caterer: Were there any other chefs involved we should look out for?
ISThere was a young lad there, Luke Thomas, who in the future I'm sure will be a good chef. That's where the black box comes into play though. The knowledge and experience pays off when you're given a list of ingredients and have to get on with it.
Caterer: What made you enter?
IS I moved to Wales 10 years ago, having worked in London for some time. The criteria was that you have to live and work in Wales so, despite originally being from Kent, I was keen to be involved in the best of Welsh cuisine. I love it here and it's beautiful waking up in the mountains every morning.
Caterer: What will you do with the prize money?
IS I'm getting married in August so it'll go towards that and our honeymoon in Scotland, where I'm sure we'll visit some good restaurants.
Caterer: Your fiancée Amanda was your commis chef in the competition. Did that put a strain on your relationship?
IS Not at all. In fact she was an extremely calming influence, particularly when I put a knife in my thumb 10 minutes into the competition. The start is very important, as you really need to get ahead in the first half hour, and she helped calm me down after that mishap.
Caterer: Is Welsh cuisine getting the recognition it deserves?
IS It's definitely going upwards all the time and the area has four Michelin stars now. There is plenty of food tourism in the area, with fantastic chefs including Shaun Hill at the Walnut Tree, Matt Tebbutt at the Foxhunter and Stephen Terry at The Hardwick. The quality of local ingredients as a whole is of the highest standard and it's a cliché, but you can't beat Welsh lamb.