Nick Smith, head chef at Vacherin London, has been named Craft Guild of Chefs National Chef of the Year 2021 after battling it out at the stove in front of a panel of judges at Le Cordon Bleu, London.
Runner-up was Derek Johnstone, head chef at Borthwick Castle, while third place was awarded to April Lily Partridge, formerly of the Ledbury, who is the highest-placed female finalist in the prize's history. Smith was awarded the additional accolade of best dessert.
Smith thanked his colleagues, family and friends for their inspiration and support over the years.
For the final, 10 chefs were tasked to design and cook a three-course menu to consist of: a "San Sebastián, modern-style tapas" starter of three different plates per portion using fresh gilt-head bream; a lamb dish using both a prime and offal cut; and a "show-stopping" dessert focusing on strawberries and cream. The brief also required a focus on the "best of British" and sustainability.
Today's announcement also saw Edwin Kuk, junior sous chef at the Art School restaurant, Liverpool, revealed as Young National Chef of the Year (YNCOTY), a separate competition for professional chefs working across all sectors including hotels, restaurants and contract caterers, and aged under 26 years old.
The young chefs had two hours to create a three-course menu from the following brief: an "innovative" vegetarian velouté with freshly prepared ravioli; an Asian-inspired main course using a fillet of Norwegian haddock or cod with a light sauce; and a "modern interpretation" of a classic bread and butter pudding with a seasonal stone fruit forming a significant part of the dish.
Both the starter and the main course had to include one or more 'future 50' sustainable foods, such as walnuts, watercress or wild rice.
More than 20 of the UK's most prestigious chefs judged elements of the competition over the months in the run-up to the final.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions, this year's young chefs were selected by Michelin-starred chef and head judge Hrishikesh Desai – also a former NCOTY winner and Roux Scholar – and competition organiser David Mulcahy, rather than gaining a top 10 spot through a semi-final selection process.
The formats for both competitions were adapted, with fewer judges and spectators to allow for social distancing, and each final streamed during hour-long shows on Tuesday and Wednesday, as part of Hospitality Week.
A VIP celebration event, bringing together all partners, finalists and judges, ambassadors at a London venue, is scheduled for April 2021.