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2014 Winner: Jason Atherton
With the opening of Little Social, Social Eating House and Berners Tavern in 2013, you could say that last year was Jason Atherton's year. But then every year has been pretty spectacular for the chef-restaurateur since he fulfilled his long-held ambition of opening his own restaurant, Pollen Street Social, in April 2011.
A swift award of a Michelin star for his flagship restaurant was quickly followed by more accolades - second in the National Restaurant Awards, eighth in The Good Food Guide's top 50 restaurants, BMW Square Meal Restaurant of the Year for 2011, and to top it all, the much sought-after Chef Award at the 2012 Cateys.
But while Pollen Street Social remains his baby, and the only restaurant where Atherton cooks, surrounding it now is a global empire that could make many of the GQ Chef of the Year's peers look lethargic. He now has six restaurants in London, three in Singapore, three in Hong Kong, two in Shanghai, and one due to open in Dubai later this year. In addition to a restaurant at the New York Edition, a second collaboration with design icon Ian Schrager opening next year, Atherton will undoubtedly have more ventures up his sleeve for 2015.
Furthermore, in 2014, Atherton, who spent nine years working for Gordon Ramsay Holdings, heading up Ramsay's outpost in Dubai and cultivating the Maze brand, somehow found time for his own Sky Living TV cookery show, My Kitchen Rules, which he co-hosted with TV chef and baker Lorraine Pascale.
While Atherton spends as much time in London as possible, his globe-trotting ensures he has his finger on the pulse of international trends, helping him to establish and shape a highly desirable collection of restaurants at varying price points, each with individual allure. Flying in the face of any critics who may suggest he is in danger of spreading himself too thin, Atherton has grown his brand while maintaining the very highest levels of food, restaurant service, attention to detail, and, critically, profitability - despite opening in a hugely competitive marketplace.
Meanwhile, a partnership with Restaurant Associates, Compass Group's fine-dining arm, saw Atherton scale new heights with the opening of City Social in Tower 42 in May, and a new role as a David Cameron-appointed food and drink ambassador for Britain, which sees him promoting it as a holiday destination to would-be travellers worldwide, ensures his star is still very much in the ascendency.
What the judges said
"Look back at the list of winners and Jason will not be out of place - he is very much the man of the moment - but it has taken him 25 years to be an overnight success."
"Jason has proven himself time and time again since he ventured out on his own and is a very worthy winner. Not only does his food push the bar, he develops his team, has time for the young apprentices of the industry, and is committed to long-term development. He has a deep passion for food, is a 'flavoursmith' and works tirelessly to improve standards."
"He has managed to achieve perfection - both in the kitchen and front of house - and successfully opened several award-winning restaurants that are very much the leading addresses of today and also defined the benchmark for the next few years. He is constantly present in his restaurants, while empowering and inspiring those around him."
Jason Atherton Pollen Street Social, London
Angela Hartnett Murano, London
Simon Mullins and Ben Tish Salt Yard Group
Karam Sethi Trishna Group
Peter Backman Managing director, Horizons
Chris Galvin Chef-patron, Galvin Restaurants
Paul Heathcote Chef-owner, PH Restaurants
Simon Rogan Chef-proprietor, L'Enclume
Alistair Sandall Key account manager/senior inspector, AA Hotel Services
Will Smith Owner, Arbutus
Jane Sunley Chief executive officer, Purple Cubed
Stephen Terry Chef-proprietor, The Hardwick
Nick Vadis UK culinary director, Compass Group UK and Ireland