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Two Welsh chefs clinch places in National Chef of the Year finals

The winners of the National and Junior of Wales competitions are on track to add UK titles to their list of culinary honours.

National Chef of Wales contest winner Thomas Westerland, 26, head chef at Lucknam Park Hotel, Colerne, won through to the National Chef of the Year (NCOTY) final as one of the six highest scoring chefs from the Sheffield and London heats.

Fellow Welsh semi-finalists, Matthew Ramsdale, 26, sous chef at The Chester Grosvenor, Chester and Daniel Jones, head chef, JT at 3 Main Street, Fishguard, did not qualify for the final

Junior Chef of Wales winner Arron Tye, 23, sous chef at the Grosvenor Pulford Hotel and Spa, Chester, clinched his place in the Young National Chef of the Year (YNCOTY) final as one of the highest scoring chefs from the Sheffield heat last week.

The 10 finalists in both competitions will be invited to take part in Mentor Days – the young chefs on September 7 and senior chefs on September 11 – and the finals take place on October 2 at the Restaurant Show.

The young chefs will be given their final brief by the end of June while the senior chefs must wait until their mentor day to discover a mystery basket of ingredients that they must cook with in the final.

Having competed in the NCOTY for the past two years, reaching the final last year, Thomas is hoping to go one better this year and win the title to add to the National Chef of Wales accolade which he won at the Welsh International Culinary Championships in February. 

The saying: If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen, had a special meaning for Thomas and the other chefs in the London heat as they overcame temperatures of up to 29 degrees whilst cooking.

The chefs were challenged to produce a vegetarian starter, lamb main course and modern ‘floating island’ dessert.

“Everything went according to plan and my dishes were well received by the judges,” said Thomas, who is originally from Cardiff. “They really liked them as they matched the set brief, especially the dessert.

“I had never cooked a ‘floating island’ dessert before and the judges were looking for a modern take on a classic. Thankfully, the dish I came up with was a modern interpretation, which is what they were looking for.” 

He chose pistachio falafel with a taboulet salad, smoked bulgar wheat and yoghurt and honey dressing as his starter. Main course was slow cooked lamb rump and faggot on a bed of summer vegetables, mint jelly and lamb cawl. Dessert was raspberry and tarragon floating island.

“What the judges are looking for is food that tastes good and is well executed,” he explained. “My style of food is relaxed and informal with a focus on taste.”

Looking forward to the final, he said: “Until the mentor day, we have no idea what we will be asked to cook and then we get a month to practice. 

“I am absolutely delighted to be in the final again and my ambition is to win it this year. I was third time lucky in the National Chef of Wales and I’m hoping it will be the same in this competition.

“My original goal was to become head chef, then my next targets were to become National Chef of Wales and National Chef of the Year. It’s all about development.”

If they do win their finals, Thomas and Arron will become the first Welsh chefs to hold the titles, which gives them an extra incentive to succeed. 

In his heat, Arron was given 90 minutes to cook a two-course meal for the royal wedding. His starter was ballotine of rabbit, pearl barley risotto, carrot and wholegrain mustard puree, pickled baby carrots and sauteed morel mushrooms. Dessert was millionaire’s tart, miso caramel, coffee and buttermilk sponge, spiced mascarpone and fraiche sorbet. 

“The judges seem to like the dishes and the only feedback I had was that there was too much cinnamon in the mascarpone,” said Arron. “I was very surprised and proud to selected for the final and I must thank my executive chef and head chef at the Grosvenor Pulford Hotel and Spa for their support. 

“It would be great for Wales if Tom and I could both win in the finals.”