Congratulations on your success reaching the finals of the British Culinary Federations Chef of the Year 2021. How have you found the competition so far?
The competition was originally due to take place in March 2020, but as result of the COVID-19 lockdown, as with everything else, the competition was postponed. The brief then is very much still the same brief today, so I have had the dishes in my head, and have been playing around with the finer details for a few weeks now. I am at a stage now where I am happy with my starter, tweaking my dessert as this is my weakest area. The main course we find out the cut of Beef to be used a month before the final date so can start planning for that then, but it has all been very exciting and a great experience!
What motivated you to compete / enter the competition?
I have two reasons for entering this year, the first being that I have always enjoyed the buzz of competing. I entered my first competition in 1997 with support from my mentor and Executive Chef Peter Leyland-Jones and really enjoy pushing myself and learning from the constructive feedback the judges give. For me there is no better way to learn. For the last 10 years I have been a judge for various competitions and Salon Culinaire events, as well as through my role for Essential Cuisine supporting young chefs studying at catering colleges to enter competitions in the future. I believe that for me to give the best advice and feedback possible I need to be current in what I do, and that means still competing from time to time to keep my skills and knowledge up to date.
The second is that few years ago I was struck by Encephalitis, which left me with some changes to how my brain works. I struggle with my short term memory and processing information on a daily basis. I’m using the competition to see how far I have come in my recovery and to see if I can still cook under pressure to a high standard.
How do you feel about your latest achievement?
Nervous! I am more nervous for this competition than any of my others and I’ve competed in over 60 over the years. I think it is because I have to adapt to the way my brain is now. I have to find new ways of processing all that needs to be done and work out a way to remember each step. It will also be great to get the whites back on and be in a kitchen again, feel the buzz of getting on the stoves and creating (hopefully) 6 plates of great food.
What do you hope to take away from your experience in the competition?
I am hoping to put what I do on a daily basis in terms of managing the way I am now into a kitchen and competition environment, see how far I have come in my recovery and see if I can still hack it! Also, I am hoping to use my experiences in my current job with Essential Cuisine to help and support the chefs we work with, highlight and underline our chef to chef model, supporting current as well as the next generation of chefs. But most importantly, just have fun in the kitchen again.
Who inspires you and your cooking style / cuisine?
I have always looked up to and been inspired by Anton Mossimann, which is how I came about working in Switzerland, I have a few of his books at home and flick through for ideas. With a sales team made up of chefs, you don’t need to look far for inspiration; Jon Harvey-Barnes, Robin Dudley and James Circuit have all helped me with ideas and been on the end of the phone to chat through recipes.
I must also say a massive thank you to Howard Beasley, my manager at Essential Cuisine, Tony Quick at Forest Produce, Sally Russum at Russums, Craig Martin at Rak Porcelain, Adam Bateman an old friend and colleague from The Grand Hotel, Birmingham and Samantha Rain and Tracey Hughes at Henley Bridge Ingredients for all the help and support they have given me. Without the generosity, skills and expertise from all of these great people, my job of competing would have been made harder.
Keep up to date with Gary competing in the final of the British Culinary Federations Chef of the Year 2021 by following Essential Cuisine on both Twitter and Instagram.