Winter 2008 - Final Showdown

12/04/2013 11:04
From 40 semi finalists to just eight contestants in the final, the ultimate prize of Knorr National Chef of the Year was presented to Simon Hulstone of The Elephant Restaurant in Torquay

For Simon Hulstone, winning the Knorr National Chef of the Year contest is the culmination of a dream. After four attempts to win the title he was crowned the winner at the glittering awards ceremony at London's Sheraton Park Lane Hotel.

The nail biting final held at the Restaurant Show in October saw eight top UK chefs take to their stoves to begin their cook off in the competition theatre. Each one had to create a four course meal – a starter, fish course, main course and dessert – from a selection of mystery basket ingredients that was unveiled the previous evening.

Hulstone's main aim was to stick to his guns when facing the challenge, although he says it was far from plain sailing: “I felt comfortable throughout the competition and worked on my own. But I did have problems with my fish course. I wanted to use fish for my starter so I had to come up with a different plan.”

The mystery basket, says Hulstone, contained ingredients such as rabbit, mussels, pumpkin and streaky bacon that everyone had to use creatively. “We were all given exactly the same which was what made the competition fair. But we could only create what was in the box and there was not much colour – no salad but green veg,” says Hulstone, adding that he found that quite a challenge. “Without a doubt I was happy with my final dishes. I did my best although I would have liked to have spent more time on them.”

Before culinary stars such as Marco Pierre White, Angela Hartnett, Atul Kochhar, and John Campbell, the competitors were judged on their technical skill, creativity, use and interpretation of ingredients, flavour and texture combinations, and presentation style.

Hulstone described the judging panel as “pretty daunting and very challenging” but at the same time admitted “it was also nice to be judged by top chefs such as Paul Gayler and Henri Brosi who I have a lot of respect for”.

As well as the title, Hulstone won a £10,000 cash prize, a trip to Pordenone in Italy home of sponsor Electrolux, a trip for two to Pommery's vineyards and cellars in Reims with private champagne tasting tutorials, plus a study trip to Belgium's chocolate shops with a course of his choice at Barry Callebaut's Belgian Chocolate Academy in Wieze.

Each of the finalists received a magnum of Pommery champagne, commemorative china from Royal Doulton and an engraved All Clad pan.

“I didn't enter the competition for the money, it was more about winning the title,” says Hulstone.

“I went into this competition to win it. Obviously I was nervous and it felt like the results on the night went on for ages and everything went through my head during that time. I was even convinced I was sitting in the wrong seat if I was to be called up for an award.”

Following the awards runner up Clark Crawley from Barclays Wealth in London said he was chuffed to come second, and he was also pleased and amazed to achieve the accolade for creating the best starter. “I was surprised to win best starter. I was actually disappointed with how it went out as it wasn't how I envisioned it. I wanted it to be a lot cleaner and refined, keeping it simple but at the same time putting maximum flavour into it.”

The biennial competition is run by the Craft Guild of Chefs in partnership with long standing sponsor Unilever Foodsolutions and leading brand Knorr, and on the day the tension was exceptional.

But all the final dishes shone with pure talent and inspiration, and the judges found it tough to make the final decision. “We experienced a phenomenal day with each and every one of the eight finalists giving it their all in this competition.

However there can only be one winner and the judges' decision was unanimous,” said Craft Guild vice president David Mulcahy.

Craft Guild chairman Nick Vadis said that Simon's dishes were simple and balanced with a real good use of the ingredients he was given. “He is a worthy winner having competed four times in this competition. He has been a great ambassador for competitions throughout his career.”

“The skill, talent and passion that we have witnessed throughout the semi-finals and the grand final has been truly awe inspiring,” added Unilever Foodsolutions managing director Simon Marshall. “Simon delivered an outstanding menu under the pressurised spotlight only competition conditions bring.”

The results of the competition, previously won by culinary luminaries such as Gordon Ramsay, David Everitt Matthias and outgoing 2006 champion Eyck Zimmer, had been kept under wraps until after the excellent dinner produced by executive chef Andrew Bennett's brigade of chefs at the Sheraton Park Lane Hotel.

They presented bouillabaisse of Norwegian halibut and langoustine, followed by Jerusalem artichoke velouté, cèpe mushroom and parmesan crostini, and roast loin and haunch of Denham estate venison, hotpot, fig and Madeira sauce, smoked sea salt parsnip purée, pomme soufflé, rounded off with salted caramel and milk chocolate mousse, pear and vanilla sorbet.

The service was exemplary and, with almost military precision, food was delivered and cleared with perfect timing, and well deserving of the santé du chef given by the Craft Guild's Steve Scuffell.

Looking ahead, Hulstone is getting set to represent Britain in the renowned Bocuse d'Or contest in Lyon in January. “Knorr National Chef of the Year has definitely prepared me and given me a boost of confidence for the Bocuse contest. It has created a platform to help me improve my standards. I will be going into the competition as a national champion which is very important to me.”

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