Steve Groves, head chef of Roux at Parliament Square, London, has been named as the Craft Guild's National Chef of the Year.
Groves emerged triumphant after 10 finalists (listed below) competed for the title in front of a live audience at the Restaurant Show in London today. The 10 had been whittled down from more than 100 entries.
Judges for the National Chef of the Year (NCOTY) competition included esteemed chefs Clare Smyth, Jonny Lake, Claude Bosi, Philip Howard and Chantelle Nicholson who based their decision on the finalists’ ability to produce three courses to the highest possible standard within the space of two hours.
All the finalists were tasked with serving their take on a sustainable bouillabaisse, a main course of suckling pig and a pear dessert.
Groves produced a menu of red mullet, shellfish mousse and bouillabaisse sauce, followed by a main course of suckling pig, Jerusalem artichokes, quince, hazelnut and trompettes followed by Calvados baba, honey poached pears and creme fraiche Chantilly for dessert.
After being crowned the winner Groves told The Caterer he was “surprised” and “relieved” after a “tough day”.
He added: “It went well, I was happy with most of what I cooked. To be able to cook for those judges was what it’s all about – you want to be judged by the best.
“I was pretty stunned [to win] I thought when I had not made third or second I must have been outside the top three – I’m always my own worst critic.”
The chef said he had devised a menu that was simplistic but maximised flavour adding that it was a “great brief”.
Commenting on Groves’ dishes head judge Gary Jones, executive chef of Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Great Milton, Oxfordshire, said: “He’s a classicist. There was a classical approach but he did it with amazing flavours. What you want with suckling pig is amazing crackling – he pulled off the best crackling. His bouillabaisse was not over-elaborate, he took the brief and gave us a beautiful classical bouillabaisse with perfectly cooked fish. He was worried about his dessert, but it had great flavour.”
Derek Johnstone, head chef, Borthwick Castle, Midlothian picked up second place. In third place was Nick Smith, head chef at Vacherin.
Past winners of the prestigious competition include Kuba Winkowski (2019), Luke Selby (2018), Mark Sargeant (2002) and Simon Hulstone (2008).
Groves added: “I look at the chefs that have won it and to be among that group is a massive career highlight. It’s a great feeling.”
Discussing the standard of competition judge Stephen Terry, chef patron of the Hardwick Arms, Abergavenny, said: "I've been a judge for four years now and the standard of cooking keeps going up and up. They were all organised and the standard was very good and there was always only so much you can do in two hours.
"For me, my marking was very close. My top two, there was a point between them. I really loved the ingredient choices, particularly the bouillabaisse and how each chef interpreted that."
William Keeble, demi chef de partie at Whatley Manor in Malmesbury, Wiltshire was named Young National Chef of the Year (YNCOTY).
Keeble said he was "blown away" to win the competition, adding that the day had gone "surprisingly smoothly".
The 10 YNCOTY finalists (listed below) were tasked with creating two different vegetarian or vegan canapes for the starter and a Norwegian cod main course appropriately garnished and served with an emulsified hot, warm or cold sauce. Finally, they served up a plated dessert using a classic Victoria sponge as a base.
Hrishikesh Desai, chair of judges for the YNCOTY competition, said: “It wasn’t easy to decide the winner and it was extremely close, coming down to tiny details but I think we’ve got a fantastic winner. William balanced the flavour well and showed artistry in his work. He showcased a lot of skill elements that can be easy to mess up under pressure and on top of that his organisation was incredible. He was cool, calm and showed that he has practised and wanted to push himself to the absolute limit.”
Russell Bateman, former National Chef of the Year and head chef of Petrus, London, was among the judges of the YNCOTY competition. He added: "The level of cooking was phenomenal this year. I thought the the winning fish dish was perfection. I couldn't fault it. When I finished it I wanted to carry on eating it."
Bethan Disley-Jones, apprentice pastry chef at the Art School, Liverpool, was awarded the people's choice prize for exceptional presentation after her main course received the most votes on social media.
Marc Billings, sous chef, Prestwold Hall, Loughborough
Fraser Bruce, head chef, the Halsetown Inn, St Ives
Mehdi Lahmadi, junior sous chef, Coworth Park, Berkshire
Steve Groves, head chef, Roux at Parliament Square, London
Nick Edgar, head chef, the Ryebeck hotel, Cumbria
Derek Johnstone, head chef, Borthwick Castle, Midlothian
Ben Boeynaems, head chef, the Zetter hotel, London
Harry Kirkpatrick, sous chef, Trinity restaurant, London
Karl O'Dell, head chef, Texture, London
Nick Smith, head chef, Vacherin
Josh Ambridge, chef de partie, Lords of the Manor hotel, Gloucestershire
Bethan Disley-Jones, apprentice pastry chef, the Art School, Liverpool
Sam Everton, senior chef de partie, Crwst, Cardigan
George Harding, senior chef de partie, the Atlantic hotel, Jersey
Siôn Hughes, chef de partie, Carden Park hotel and spa, Chester
Bronwen Jenkins, chef de partie, Royal Garden Hotel, London
William Keeble, demi chef de partie, Whatley Manor, Wiltshire
Gercelynn Mae Dionio, chef de partie, Lucknam Park hotel and spa, Wiltshire
Matthew Nicholls, sous chef, Cheals of Henley, Henley-in-Arden
Jordon Powell, chef de partie, South Lodge Hotel, West Sussex