Paul Hart, 31, is head chef of Cringletie House hotel in the Scottish Borders. Employed at the two-AA-rosette property since 2004, he last month became the Scottish Chefs Association's Hotel Chef of the Year.
That's not bad for a boy from Llangollen in North Wales, who used to earn his keep washing plates in a local café as a teenager. He recalls: "It was busy but good fun, and over time I started helping out more and more in the kitchen."
In 1995, he launched his career as a commis chef at St David's Park hotel in Chester. "The head chef there was in the Welsh culinary team, and there was a great team of lads in the kitchen," Hart says. "We were live-in and when we finished
our shifts, we'd go back and get the cookbooks out to learn more. It was really inspiring."
A few moves later, in 1998, Hart headed down under to find out at first hand what fusion cooking was all about. Arriving in Australia with a one-year visa, £400, a return ticket and not much else, he had no choice but to land a job, which he did as chef tourant at the Harbour restaurant in the Sydney Opera House.
Back in Blighty in 1999, Hart joined London's Sloane Club, where he became a junior sous chef, before moving on to the three-rosette Bibendum restaurant, also in the capital, six months later.
Hart had found the club's nature as a private enclave hard to square with his career aspirations. "As it was private, there weren't any visible accolades," he says. "So I was worried that I wouldn't have anything tangible to show a future employer."
Life as a sous chef at Bibendum was "brilliant" but ended prematurely. Waking up one morning, he found his flat ablaze and his escape blocked. Although unhurt, Hart had to be rescued from the roof by the fire brigade - but he lost everything he had. Determined to make a fresh start, he joined Michelin-starred Chapter One restaurant in Locksbottom, Kent, as pastry chef in 2001.
A stint at Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons followed in 2002, before work as sous chef at Bath's Moody Goose restaurant. Keen to push his career forward, he visited Cringletie and was impressed by the owner's ambition.
"I think you should definitely move around," says Hart. "A couple of years at one place is enough to learn what you can, and you need to keep moving to broaden your knowledge and develop fully as a chef."