Everyone from a head chef at a restaurant on a Suffolk pier to a development chef for a top fruit and veg supplier is on their way to The National Chef of the Year 2013 semi-finals following yesterday’s paper judging of more than 120 entries – a record for the competition.


David Mulcahy, organiser of the competition and vice president of the Craft Guild of Chefs, said there was a healthy 10 percent increase in entries on last year.


“Normally there are forty semi-final places available, but due to the very high standard and higher marks achieved this year, this has been increased to forty-four,” he said.


“Everyone on the judging panel agreed that the overall quality of entries is getting better and better by the year and we are definitely going in the right direction. Recipe writing has improved markedly and the entry forms are more focused, partly because we have strived to better communicate what they should concentrate on in their entry; seasonality, provenance and sourcing, and making sure they have a well balanced menu.”


He said it was very encouraging to see more female chefs entering the competition, but he had hoped to see more chefs entering the Asian / Oriental and Rest of the World categories, which were introduced alongside Modern British / European in 2010 to broaden appeal.


“The Modern British / European category is still, overwhelmingly, the most popular category, perhaps predictably as it is what most chefs are cooking in their restaurants,” he said.


“However, ethnic cuisine is a huge market here in the UK and it would be fantastic to shine a light on chefs in this sector through The National Chef of the Year, and I’m considering more specific mentoring and workshop activity in these areas to encourage the talent out there.”


With the paper judging put to bed, the next stage of the competition is the semi-finals at Sheffield College on June 18th and the University of West London on July 2nd and 3rd.


To make the grade, David said chefs needed to concentrate on demonstrating that they could reproduce their written menus successfully within the two hour time frame. “It’s about practice, practice, practice, and bearing in mind that competitors will be in a kitchen they haven’t cooked in before. Ultimately, the challenge is to create a well balanced, exciting and tasty menu with skill and understanding of the ingredients, and doing your best on the day.”


Eight chefs who make the grade will go on to the live competition final at The Restaurant Show in London on Tuesday, October 8th, with The National Chef of the Year 2013 being announced at a high profile awards ceremony and VIP dinner in the evening.


This year, finalists will also be invited to a mentor day on September 20th, with suppliers showcasing ingredients in a farmer’s market-style exhibition with workshops, key note speeches and words of wisdom from organisers, chef judges and past competitors.


The competition

The National Chef of the Year, now in its fifth decade, is recognised as the annual search for a UK chef that stands out in terms of their ‘wow factor’, skill and passion, following in the footsteps of Gordon Ramsay, Simon Hulstone, Mark Sargeant and Frederick Forster.


As well as national acclaim, the chef that takes the title walks away with an impressive haul of prizes, with last year’s winner, Alyn Williams, winning cash, an exclusive study trip with dinner at a 3-starred Michelin restaurant in France, a second study trip to Norway, master classes with industry greats and specialist chef’s products and equipment.


Advancing through the various stages of the competition requires a well thought out menu, with particular attention paid to authenticity, sourcing, seasonality, timing and wastage, while creating a menu that offers maximum flavour, texture, balance and style.


Finalists also have to create a dish from a mystery basket, with the list of seasonal produce from land and sea presented as an order form to be completed before the final.


Joining David and chairman of judges Philip Howard as this year’s ambassadors are Angela Hartnett, chef proprietor of Murano, and Michelin-starred Atul Kochhar. For more information, call Clair Bowman on 01293 610 329 or follow @TNCOTY on Twitter.