Entries are open for the 2021 National Chef of the Year (NCOTY) competition, with contenders being challenged to create a menu that tells their story of the 2020 pandemic through food.
Chair of judges Paul Ainsworth unveiled the brief to an audience of chefs on a webinar this afternoon, joined by Vivek Singh, Paul Askew and Lisa Goodwin-Allen, as well as competition organiser David Mulcahy.
This year's panel of Michelin-starred judges want to learn about each chef and capture the essence of what the last year has meant for them through their menus, with each course having its own theme accounting for a different element of what each chef has experienced.
The chefs' starters must be vegetarian, incorporating ingredients on the Knorr Future 50 Foods list, which have been identified with the support of WWF as having a positive impact on the environment by improving the diversity of the crops we consume, as well as having excellent nutritional credentials.
Recognising the equally hard-hit supply chain, the main course should incorporate both fish and meat of the competitor's choice and reflect their passion for helping high-quality, local, British producers.
Finally, the dessert must explore memories from the start of the pandemic, when food items were sparse and families came together to invigorate a love of cooking and baking using raw ingredients. NCOTY judges are looking for a twist on British classics that bring a sense of comfort during difficult times. The menus the chefs create for the entry process will be what they serve to the judges if they make it to the final.
From all the entries received by Monday 31 May, the judges will whittle down to just 40 chefs who will be invited to the second stage. Chefs who make it through will be asked to create a further dish in a bid to battle for one of just 10 places in the final. The cook-off will take place in London in September with the chefs being part of a documentary that will be aired as part of an exclusive red carpet VIP premiere for competitors, judges, ambassadors, sponsors and the media, during which the winner will be revealed.
The winner will take home a host of impressive prizes such as culinary experiences, equipment and trips, as well as join an esteemed group of chefs including Gordon Ramsay, David Everitt-Matthias and Alyn Williams.
Vice-president of the Craft Guild of Chefs and culinary ambassador at Sodexo UK and Ireland David Mulcahy said: "Whilst the NCOTY competition's focus is very much about moving forward, this year's brief encourages chefs to reflect on the last year and tell their own personal story through food. There is no doubt the Covid-19 pandemic will be remembered in history for generations to come and we want to capture those memories via three delicious dishes."
Ainsworth said: "When looking at the competition this year, we discussed the highs of the 2020 event and explored which elements we could keep and develop to ensure NCOTY stays relevant and exciting. This year the brief gives chefs more freedom than ever to create a menu that is personal to them, to their love of food and their style of cooking.
"I'm a huge believer in telling a story through food and can't wait to see the creativity on display as these menus come in and learning about the chefs' personalities through their food. The winning menu is one I want to see go down in history as a true reflection of the part food has played in the Covid-19 pandemic."
Alex Hall, executive chef at Unilever Food Solutions, added: "Knorr Professional is a long-standing partner of the competition and each year we're honoured to be able to celebrate the very best talent our industry has to offer. The competition is a catalyst for the future talent of the industry and year on year the quality of food and competitiveness continues to grow.
"Recognising the speed at which food is evolving and knowing that chefs can truly be ambassadors for change this year, we're delighted that the Guild has embraced our quest to cook for a more sustainable future with a focus on the Future 50 Food report. The chefs who participate will be able to demonstrate how putting plants at the centre-of-plate can still deliver the quality and value that their customer expect, whilst showcasing their skills in order to cook not only for the title but for a sustainable food future."