Hall of Fame

It’s amazing what a difference a year makes! This time last year I set about creating a blog with the first post being the title and failings of the 2012 Chef of the Year final. As I now start typing my latest piece, the emotions are polar opposites.  On reflection I am almost grateful for the experience it taught me and without it perhaps I could never truly appreciate how much this means to me.

Some say that pride is a sin, if so then I openly admit it now I am a Sinner.  The 8th October 2013 was a good day, a very good day, in fact it was the proudest day in my life after the birth of my girls.

I had dreamt of the title of National Chef of the year for most of my thirties, however I hadn’t even dared submit a paper entry until I was 35.  Years previous I would watch from afar as the likes of my culinary Idols – Gordon Ramsay, Mark Sargeant, David EverittMatthias, Simon Hulstone and Steve Love to mention but a few won the converted crown and took their place in the hall of fame.

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As per those sporting clichés “You miss all the shots you never take” I threw my chef hat into the ring. 2010 I made the semi finals and was placed 11th, with 10 going through to the final that year I was first reserve.  Watching the final won by previous roux Scholar Hrishikesh Desai, I couldn’t wait for the criteria for the following semi final in 2011 to come out.  When it duly did I was ready, well almost! The date of my London heat was the same day as my long suffering sous chef Andy’s wedding and our career rolls were reversed, I was his number 2, the best man.  Fortunately the option of a Sheffield heat was available, a round trip of 340 miles, but as you’ve got to be in it to win it, off I went, I exceeded all expectations and won my semi final! With 8 in that year’s final I was placed 3rd.  The winner another Roux scholar and 4-time entrant Freddie Forster and Runner up Alyn Williams, not just in my mind a great chef but a true gentleman of the trade.

2012 wasn’t just Olympic year it was a chance to try and improve on my 3rd place.  I made the final however this year there was no confidence boost from a semi final win.  Alyn was the run away favourite in my eyes, and duly won the title he so deserved.  For myself no top 3, however a prize of the best presented dish from one of the sponsors, and a 2000 word spill of frustration  https://itsnotaboutthegrouse.wordpress.com/2012/12/22/its-not-about-the-grouse/

For 52 weeks I waited for the 2013 competition to make amends. Followers of my blogs will no doubt have read about the London to Edinburgh 440 mile 2 day road trip. Those training miles were spent with a soundtrack always ringing in my head, the Scripts ‘Hall of Fame’ with the line “dedicate yourself and you gonna find yourself standing in the hall of fame.” I had the want and the desire but firstly there was a very tough semi final heat in London, not just the winner David Bush going through but 3 of the highest scoring runners up, myself fortunately included.  On September 20th the final basket was unveiled.  This years Chair of Judges Philip Howard and Alyn Williams had selected a Myriad of meat, fish and vegetables, a real showcase of the best of Autumn.

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The task was to produce a three course meal for 4 covers, as always ingredients could be weighed and peeled but this aside it had to be starting from scratch. We had a week to submit our menu and list of ingredients, then to practice as hard as possible to finesse these dishes.

My menu for the final was Soused Cornish Mackerel, Clams and Passion fruit; Ribeye of Beef, Horseradish Pithivier, girolles and roasted Jerusalem artichoke puree; Blackberry, vanilla, caramelised white chocolate, Bramley apple and cinnamon doughnut.

The menu was submitted, ingredients ordered, then onto the first test. Gary Jones, a chef I have admired and an opinion I hold in great regard, had agreed to critique my dishes in their first draft format. The last time I stood in the kitchen at Le Manoir was as a 17 year old (Gary was a sous then) and I was nervous as I was back then. Gary and selected members from the brigade were constructive in their feedback and I can’t say how grateful I am for the time and professional advice he gave me, not just on the dishes, but more importantly on my frame of mind for the big day.

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October 8th at the Restaurant show it was now or never! I had practiced hard with Peter Ley my wingman for the final, but would it be enough?  This year I went in with a different mind-set.  Previously it had been not to lose, rather than to win. This year I didn’t just want it, I needed it! and as always set off at a furious tempo.  Something felt different though; I relaxed into it, almost trying to enjoy the occasion.  The nerves that had dominated my cooking in the previous finals were lessened and even as they called out the countdown I stuck to the task.

After tidying we went on to the awards ceremony where my partner Tracie and parents were waiting nervously.  We were finally introduced to the crowd individually and I stepped on to the stage. Now to the results.  On previous years my heart had beat so hard in the chest that it surely must have been heard by the front row, however strangely there was an element of calmness in me.  The dishes had gone ok, not as well as in your own kitchen, but I hadn’t made any huge game changing errors.  To me the competition is always about who can get away with the least amount of errors on the day and cook 3 tasty plates of food. You can never win with a knock out starter or dessert, its consistency and this year I had done just that. Win, lose or draw I had no big ‘grouse’ incident to write about! I was strangely at peace with myself, I wanted to win, and as always it burnt inside me like a blow torch.

3rd place – Andrew wright, round of applause

2nd place – Simon Webb again a round of applause

Now the all too familiar emotions returned, time slowed, thoughts quickened, surely I had cooked better than 4th – 8th.  I was told that evening, I had put my finalists presentation plate under my left arm, as if to free my right hand to shake the winner’s. Here we go… with a menu of Mackerel, Beef (hang on, someone else did beef) and berries the winner of the craft guild of chefs National chef of the year 2013 is……. Hayden Groves, my goodness that’s me!

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In those milliseconds it was strange, as I clasped my face in disbelief, my life seemed to flash through my eyes, my childhood, those endless miles on the bike where I chased the dream of turning pro as a teenager, the failings and successes as a chef, a huge wave of relief took me away.

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I was presented with the trophy by Phil Howard and in a new move for 2013 the microphone was thrust on me from host Will Torrent, “what does it feel like?” “At least let it settle in a bit!” I said.  I thanked Peter for his help, my family for being with me and supporting throughout the years, the chefs – you couldn’t have a competition without a great group of competitors, and then finally the sponsors, judges, organisers and the crowd.

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Two weeks later, another dream was realised, I was on the cover of The Caterer and interviewed by my FGM Janie Stamford for a 4 page piece inside, what was I saying about pride….. I had finally done it, as per the song – I was in the Hall of Fame….

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For an online version of my interview with Janie-  m.catererandhotelkeeper.co.uk/Article.aspx?cat=news&id=350306

To view more great photos by Kat Alano of the final check out the Caterers Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.687913007904378.1073741827.215863138442703&type=3

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~ by theboxterboy on November 3, 2013.

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