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MasterChef The Professionals 2013: Interview with winner Steven Edwards

13 December 2013 by
MasterChef The Professionals 2013: Interview with winner Steven Edwards

Steven Edwards, head chef of the Camellia Restaurant at Exclusive Hotels' South Lodge hotel in Sussex, was the winner of the 2013 series of MasterChef: the Professionals. He tells Neil Gerrard about the highs and lows of the competition and what it means for his culinary career.

How does it feel to have won MasterChef: The Professionals 2013? It is an amazing feeling and I still can't believe it. Like I said in Italy [while working alongside Massimo Bottura at the three-Michelin-starred Osteria Francescana] I am on cloud nine and just enjoying the rollercoaster that is happening.

How long have you know that you were the winner? It takes about six months, and so it has been a pretty big secret to keep but I am so glad that it was kept a secret.

Has that been difficult? It has been. When you get something like that, you want to scream and shout and tell everyone but I also knew the importance of keeping it a secret, especially with close family and friends, to keep the surprise for them to see the outcome.

And did your colleagues at South Lodge hotel have any idea? Only senior management. But no-one else knew, which was really nice, so last night there was a big cheer. We had a TV screen set up in one of the rooms, and we had all the guests and even the chefs watching. The whole place just stopped for that last half an hour and it just erupted.

What was the toughest part of the competition for you? The toughest part was cooking for the chefs, and also the critics. There was just so much work involved in cooking for that amount of people. The conditions were also difficult [it was one of the hottest days of the year when the three finalists cooked for a dining room full of the UK's top chefs], and also who it was for. There was a real mix of a lot of pressures, but the feeling afterwards was immense.

What was the highlight for you? The highlight would be Italy without a doubt, being whisked off there and spending a couple of days at one of the best restaurants in the world. That doesn't happen to many chefs, and to say that I have had that experience is great.

No and as I said on the show that was my biggest worry - I was just doing the food that I enjoy eating and it is quite humble. You could choose big hitters such as venison or ingredients like that to get good feedback but I just stuck to my guns because I wanted to do simple food done well - that is my food philosophy.

How much advice and support did you find you got from judges Michel Roux Jr and Monica Galetti during the series? A huge amount. Michel and Monica are a great team and they work completely differently to each other. Michel is there to push you on and he has got great advice, whereas Monica gives you instant feedback. She doesn't have to speak at times, she can just look at you and you know it is wrong. So together as a team I think they are fantastic.

And aside from them, who else did you feel you learned from? Ashley Palmer-Watts - he is my chef idol. When I found out I was cooking at his restaurant, that for me was a win already. Dinner by Heston hasn't been open for that long and when I found out about it, that kind of food really excites me. It is something different, and working with Ashley as well is fantastic. The biggest shock for me was the amount of covers. To create food at a two-star level for 170 covers is crazy. I don't think there are many two-star restaurants that do that.

What is the next step for you now? I want to keep myself grounded and not get too carried away, develop my style of food and hopefully keep progressing at the rate I have done. This year has been a fantastic year for me, and I want to keep the momentum going.

But it must be a bit odd for you to go back into the workplace now, after the media whirlwind that you are currently going through? Not at all. I work closely with Matt Gillan [head chef, the pass, South Lodge hotel] and Lewis Hamblet [executive chef, South Lodge] and they keep me really grounded. I know what is going to happen - I will walk back in on Monday and get the mickey taken out of me. It will be back to reality - they keep me in my place!

THE CHEF'S ACADEMY AT EXCLUSIVE HOTELS AND VENUES

Exclusive Hotels and Venues, which run South Lodge hotel where Steven Edwards works, is to launch a Chef's Academy.

Headed by Andy Mackenzie, the group's former executive chef of Lainston House hotel, the academy will offer an intensive two-year training programme for commis chefs with at least one year's experience.

It will provide work opportunities in the company's six restaurants and conference and banqueting facilities, where the trainees will be able to draw on the experience of Michelin-starred chefs Michael Wignall at Pennyhill Park, Matt Gillan at South Lodge and Richard Davies at the Manor House Hotel & Golf Club, as well as Edwards and Denis Drame, a recent recipient of a Master of Culinary Arts in Pastry.

The training will provide the recruits with the skills they need to progress to chef de partie level. As well as working across the group's six properties, they will also attend masterclasses and workshops and visit several top-class producers.

MacKenzie, who has worked for Exclusive Hotels for more than 27 years, said he was really excited and proud to be heading the academy.

The six-strong portfolio of Exclusive Hotels and Venues includes: Pennyhill Park in Bagshot, Surrey; Lainston House in Winchester, Hampshire; South Lodge in Horsham, West Sussex; the Manor House in Castle Coombe, Wiltshire; Fanhams Hall in Ware, Hertfordshire; and the Royal Berkshire in
Ascot, Berkshire.

The Exclusive Chef's Academy is due to launch in July 2014.

MATT GILLAN

Matt Gillan, head chef at the Pass restaurant, South Lodge hotel, tells Amanda Afiya how proud he is to see Steven Edwards' career go from strength to strength.

I've known Steve for five years, from when he first started at the hotel. In that time he has really grown as a chef. He has a real desire to learn and is prepared to be pushed in order to gain the necessary skills to help him develop further.

Within the skill set that he has acquired, he has also found his style. He knows what he wants to cook and how he will go about cooking it. In a culinary world where it is so easy nowadays to move away from tradition, Steve uses it as a basis for his food, working with unassuming ingredients and making them taste as good as they can. He has really taken the Camellia on another journey, and an exciting one in my opinion.

I'm so proud to see Steve crowned MasterChef 2013. The amount of work he put into his dishes for the competition was phenomenal. Throw into the mix the fact that he was halfway through a management course and his wife had recently had a baby, and it just shows how much he wanted to win.

Throughout the process, he learnt so much and to have the opportunity to work with the chefs he did added more fuel to his fire and passion for his craft. He came back to the kitchen excited to change his menus and that's so inspiring for his team to see.

Our set-up at the hotel is fairly flat. We have four separate kitchen teams - the Pass, Camellia, banqueting and pastry, with executive chef Lewis Hamblet sitting above, steering the ship. I act as a bit of a consultant for the other kitchens. In between filming, I would push Steve with his dishes, a bit like a hardcore personal trainer. One night we spent two hours after service going over one dish for the competition.

I hope the show will start to draw some young chefs out to the Sussex countryside who want to learn from a talented young chef that has a bright future ahead of him.

Recruitment is probably the hardest thing for us, so fingers crossed it will make the hotel a consideration for chefs looking for their next move.

THE WINNING DISHES

On the last day of the final, Edwards wowed MasterChef judges Michel Roux Jr, Monica Galetti and Gregg Wallace with three dishes:

â- Anjou pigeon breast with roasted baby beetroot, caramelised feta dice, apple compote, watercress and a beetroot vinaigrette

â- Pan-fried stone bass on a bed of tomato and Parmesan orzo, with puréed poached and blackened kohlrabi and a lime foam

â- Honey cake topped with honeycomb, with poached peaches, peach compote, roast peach purée, yogurt espuma, pistachio crumb and thyme syrup.

DANNY PECORELLI

Danny Pecorelli, managing director of Exclusive Hotels, tells Janet Harmer why Steven Edwards' win has been a huge boost for the business.

Steven's success has been hugely uplifting for everyone within the group and we are absolutely delighted with his success. It is particularly gratifying as Steven has very much grown with us, having joined South Lodge three and a half years ago as a sous chef at the Pass. We promoted him to be head chef of Camellia 18 months ago. It is very much our ethos to grow our staff and provide opportunities for them.

We have a strong focus on food and beverage across the group, and we now have three Michelin-starred chefs [Michael Wignall, Matt Gillan and Richard Davies]. We've also had widespread success in the Great British Menu with Richard winning the pudding course and Denis Drame of Pennyhill Park achieving the Master of Culinary Arts in pastry.

Our new Chef's Academy will provide the trainees to work with all these guys and more.

Steven has a lovely attitude, which is very encouraging, and he is supportive of his team, which is something we regard as culturally very important throughout the group.

ASHLEY PALMER-WATTS

Ashley Palmer-Watts, executive chef of The Fat Duck Group and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, played host to two of the MasterChef: The Professionals finalists -Steven Edwards and Adam Handling - at Dinner. He tells Amanda Afiya how they got on.

We were asked to take part in MasterChef: The Professionals last year, but we weren't in a position to do it. I didn't feel comfortable having lots of TV cameras in the kitchen, which is essentially a glass box, because if things didn't go well it would be on TV.

This year, I felt we were more experienced, although there's still nowhere to hide. The team at Dinner are brilliant; they're more mature - we're almost three years old now.

On the night the contestants did service with us we did 165/170 covers - it was full-on. Normally, the chefs run a section and we plate everything on the pass. But Steven and Adam had to cook their dishes and plate them while the whole restaurant was watching. We tried to let them get on with it as much as possible. It's incredible to think that as contestants they didn't know where they were going to work until they arrived - it must have been terrifying. It was a huge amount of pressure, but they did bloody brilliantly.

We had to teach them to prepare and plate a dish for service, so that it was ready within five to six minutes from calling the check - 10 minutes absolute maximum. The standard has to be really high. You have to work to time, otherwise you start dragging the team down.

Adam and Steven did very well. The first couple of dishes needed a bit of tweaking, but that was it. They were both extremely nervous - anyone would be coming into a big kitchen - and they were expected to do 170 covers, which is not something you come across every day. They were both really good. It was hard to split them, but when I asked them to cook the salmagundi on the second day, they seemed to have learnt a lot.

From what I saw, the standard seemed very high this year. I sent them both messages of congratulations. It's certainly not an experience I would want to take part in - I wouldn't want to be a contestant! They are good chefs with a nice touch, but what they mustn't do now is get distracted. While they are fairly senior chefs, they need to keep pushing and put what they've learnt to good use and keep their heads down.

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