This year saw Russell Bateman, head chef at Colette's restaurant at the Grove in Chandler's Cross in Hertfordshire, win the title of The Craft Guild of Chefs' National Chef of the Year on his third attempt. He speaks to Janie Manzoori-Stamford about how it felt to win, and the thinking behind his dishes
Congratulations on winning National Chef of the Year, after making it to the semi-final in 2012 and the final last year. How did it feel to be victorious?
It was unbelievable. It's a massive achievement. I'd learned so much from doing the final last year. When you go in knowing what space you've got, you can plan better.
I did seek advice [before going into the final the first time] but I didn't take it. I was too concerned about cooking for the judges and trying to impress them, when I should just have been doing what I do. In the back of my mind I thought it just wasn't enough and that I'd have to do more to impress.
Maybe it's a confidence issue. When I entered the first time, I'd never done a competition before. I had no idea about how they worked and I picked good dishes, but they were totally wrong for the competition.
How were your dishes wrong in previous years and how did you change your approach?
Last year I chose to do a fish main course because I knew everyone else would do a meat one and I wanted to stand out and be different. That was a mistake because it was difficult to judge against the others. I learned that you stand out because your dishes are better not because they're different.
Did you find competition cooking to be very different to restaurant cooking? Are you able to compete with your own signature style?
It doesn't differ massively; the main thing [to note] is that the experience of the competition and the judges' feedback over the last two years has meant that my style has changed.
On that basis, would you encourage more chefs to compete?
Yes, you don't get that feedback normally. Philip Howard is the chairman of the judges. He's an amazing chef with an amazing restaurant
- you'd be a fool not to listen to him.
Your CV includes some very respected restaurants and working alongside some very high profile chefs. How have they influenced your own style of cooking and who has influenced you the most?
I worked at Chapter One in Locksbottom, in Kent with a chef called Paul Dunstane, who has been hugely influential in my career through books, eating out, talking about food until ridiculous hours of the morningâ¦ he's my son's godfather too. He looked after me when I was a young chef.
Of course, I've been influenced by everyone else I've worked with - Marcus [Wareing], Nico [Ladenis], Daniel [Clifford], Aiden [Byrne], Eric [Chavot], Marc [Veyrat] - they're all amazing chefs. But then other people that I haven't worked with, like Tom Kerridge, have inspired me as well. The industry influences me. Someone asked me about this recently and I said I'm quite affected by a lot of things, whether it be the seasons, reading The Caterer, looking on the internet, buying books, eating outâ¦ I love the industry.
You're 34 now. How has the industry changed since you started cooking?
It's very different now. The attitudes of young people are different because they know they shouldn't work 100 hours a week just to get a name on a CV or whatever it may be. They don't all love it as much as I did. I actually enjoyed doing 100 hours a week. I understand it though.
Looking at it as an older person with a family, I now think they're right. Why would you want to work 100 hours a week and miss out on life
But I love this job and I love my industry and I don't care if I have to do 100 hours a week! Here at the Grove, you're responsible for Colette's, while Harry Lomas is the hotel's executive head chef. How does your relationship work?
I talk to him every day. We have meetings, as every hotel chef will, whether it be about finance or our monthly activities; we get on really well together and he's my boss, but ultimately he lets me get on and that's it. He's very good at man management and organisation, obviously with his army background and doing the logistics for the London 2012 Olympics at ExCeL.
Are there specific benefits to running a restaurant within a large hotel?
We haven't got rent and rates to pay. We've got that cushion. And only being open for dinner is a big benefit to the younger people because the hours aren't as excessive as restaurants. It's quite easy for me to recruit and keep staff as well, because they know they're getting every Sunday and Monday off. They know they don't have to come in at the crack of dawn every day, so are not exhausted when they're working. It makes their performance that much better.
Is there anything that you miss from working in a more traditional restaurant?
When you have lunch service there's a big push to get things done; when you only have dinner there's not that push. You've got the time to prepare things properly and you don't have the stress, but you miss the buzz. Your adrenaline levels are very different. But it gives me time
to work on my menu and speak to suppliers.
Do you plan to enter more competitions now you have won National Chef?
I don't really know what do after National Chef of the Year. I hope to help my guys and mentor them to enter more competitions rather than
do any myself. I can't see what other competitions there are [that I can enter]. I'm too old for the Roux Scholarship. I've just cooked for the best judging line-up you've probably ever seen in this country, so I'm kind of happy. I'll quit while I'm ahead, maybe!
Russell Bateman's winning menu
Oyster panna cotta with scallop and apple tartare, and celeriac consommé
Roasted veal sweetbreads and garam masala with cream girolles, turnip and a black garlic purée
Rocky road with three different kinds of chocolate, marshmallow and tuiles
Talk me through the inspiration behind your winning dishes
The brief for the starter stated we had to use fish, and on offer was cod, oysters, scallops, clams, crab, crayfish and sea bream. I wanted to use the ingredients intelligently, so that it took me less time to produce it, but with maximum flavour. There were three judges on the starters and they had eight plates of food to taste. I wanted to create the cleanest and freshest plate that they could have; one that just spoke for itself, flavour-wise.
That's why I decided to do something that was cold and had some acidity in it but also really sang of the sea. I did oyster panna cotta with scallop and apple tartare, some sea herbs for acidity, colour and obviously for flavour. The sorrel worked with the apple, the purslane worked with the scallop and the oyster, the sea aster had the bitterness and then there was a little celery cress on there.
On the side I served a chilled celeriac consommé that was poured on in front of the judges. The ingredients all complemented each other, but they weren't too elaborate. I wanted the dish to be complex but not elaborate and I think there's a bit of a difference there. I've got a decent CV and when I was at Nico's his adage was: simplicity, precision, restraint. This dish is summed up by that ideology.
How did you come up with your main course?
The main course meat options were grouse, chorizo, pork cheeks, rump of beef, veal sweetbreads, lardo, chicken, streaky bacon. Straight away, I wanted to use the sweetbreads because I know that chefs love offal. If you cook them nicely they're delicious, which hopefully starts to win the judges over straight away.
I spiced the sweetbreads with garam masala, which gave them almost a curry feel and flavour, and plain-roasted them in a pan - no water
baths - so they got really crispy on the outside.
I made a sherry vinegar reduction with Demerara sugar to glaze over them at the end. Black garlic was on the list, which I made into a purée, creamed girolles with shallots, chives and tarragon and a little bit of garam masala so that it married through the dish.
Then I made something a bit different: a saag aloo, but instead of using potatoes, I used turnips. I put finely sliced shallots in a pan with butter and garam masala and cooked them for about an hour, almost like onion lyonniase, so they became really sweet and spicy. I stirred really finely sliced turnip through it - when that started to break down, I stirred my spinach in. I drained all the butter off and it came together nicely.
It was quite a simple dish. No elaborate saucing, no foams. The feedback was good for that dish - I think a lot of chefs love a curry!
And for dessert?
For dessert I did a take on rocky road. We had to use Cacao Barry chocolate, which I use anyway so I was confident with that. It had a chocolate ganache on the bottom, a little tuile made from almond caramel, frozen chocolate mousse, whipped white chocolate, flavoured with cinnamon, fig purée and little fig segments, and marshmallows that were made with port.
It's a dish that I've wanted to do in the restaurant for a long time, but I was never happy with it. When I saw the dessert brief was chocolate, I tried out several other dishes in the week that I had to submit my menu and I wasn't happy with them either. So I thought I'd have a crack at this rocky road with the fig.
I knew I could make marshmallows, I knew I could incorporate the nuts to make the tuile to add texture, so I had a go at making a posh version of rocky road, but I wanted to keep it clean and deceptively simple.
The 2014 NCOTY finalists
- Russell Bateman, head chef, Colette's, Hertfordshire
- Diane Camp (formerly Diane Kay), development chef, Reynolds, Hertfordshire
- Nick Edgar, head chef, Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, Oxfordshire
- Andrew Gotting, executive group head chef, Galloping Gourmet, Worcestershire
- Adam Handling, head chef, St Ermins hotel, London
- Lahiru Jayasekara, head chef, the Manor at Weston on the Green, Oxfordshire
- Daniel Morgan, sous chef, the Square, London
- Simon Webb, head chef, Restaurant Associates, London
Jason Atherton, Pollen Street Social; Brett Graham, the Ledbury; Monica Galetti, Le Gavroche; Philip Howard, the Square (co-chair); Hideko Kawa, the SweetArt Lab; Tom Kerridge, the Hand & Flowers; Bruce Poole, Chez Bruce; Clare Smyth, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay (co-chair); Julie Walsh, Le Cordon Bleu; Marcus Wareing, Marcus. Competition director David Mulcahy, Craft Guild of Chefs and Sodexo.
Russell Bateman's prize pot
- Winner's medal
- £1,250 voucher towards the Lockhart product range
- A study trip to France including dinner at a three-Michelin-starred restaurant
- A year's supply of Knorr Bouillon
- £1,500 worth of Electrolux Professional equipment
- A study trip to Dubai courtesy of Continental Chef Supplies
- £500 Churchill voucher and specially designed plate
National Chef of the Year roll call
- 2014 Russell Bateman
- 2013 Hayden Groves
- 2012 Alyn Williams
- 2011 Frederick Forster
- 2010 Hrishikesh Desai
- 2008 Simon Hulstone
- 2006 Eyck Zimmer
- 2004 Steve Love
- 2002 Mark Sargeant
- 2000 Bruce Sangster
- 1998 Kevin Viner
- 1996 David Everitt-Matthias
- 1994 Lou Jones
- 1992 Gordon Ramsay
- 1990 Roger Narbett
- 1988 Mark Gregory
- 1986 David Pitchford
- 1984 Robert Mabey
- 1982 William Stafford
- 1980 Ken Whibley
- 1978 Paul Brady
- 1976 Eddie van Meille
- 1974 Bryan Price
- 1972 Pierre Jacquemin