National Chef of the Year 2014: Russell Bateman, November 2014

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 18th November 2014

This is the first in a series of regular blogs by head chef of Colettes at The Grove and winner of the National Chef of the Year 2014, Russell Bateman. 

I’ve been asked to write a blog for The Staff Canteen (TSC) by its director, Mark Morris. Having 735J8649known Mark for a few years and being a follower of TSC, I was very proud and honoured. I have to admit it’s nice that someone thinks the industry may be interested in my opinion, so based on those facts how could I say no?

I expect some of you are reading this asking ‘who is he and why should I read his blog’? The answer is simple: I’m a chef just like you, who’s been given an opportunity to air his views and let you know what’s going on in my world. I was obviously prompted to do this blog due to my recent National Chef of the Year win. I will talk about that briefly but I want this to be about more than just one facet of my career.

I will be talking about suppliers, produce, chefs, front of house, kitchen, equipment, restaurants I’ve visited……any number of things. There is no strict format and that’s the way I wanted it. So let’s start with the National Chef of the Year (like I said the reason I got this gig). The format is very simple. In March the competition opens, inviting chefs from all walks of life and all over the industry to enter.

This year’s criteria were a vegetable focused starter, a white fish main course and a summer fruit dessert. First you need to submit your entry including recipe, dish description and photo. This will then go through a rigorous paper judging panel. The 40 best will be invited to cook their dishes in one of four semi-final heats. Three of this year’s semi-finals were held at Le Cordon Bleu 735J9414cookery school, an impressive place with an amazing pedigree.

There was also a heat for the chefs based in the North at Sheffield College. My dishes were a chilled English garden essence, goats curd, black olive, rye. Main course was roast cod, wakame seaweed, crab, yuzu, artichoke, fennel. Dessert was peaches, Earl Grey, lemon verbena, wild honey.

Whilst the dishes may sound as though there’s a lot going on, they were all relatively simple. For me in this competition it’s about simplicity, precision and flavour. Following the semi-final, came the mentor day where we were introduced to the mystery basket.

It seemed like we’d been waiting to see those ingredients forever! The semi-final was months ago and so much had gone on between then and this day. The criteria for the final was a fish/shellfish starter, meat based main course and a chocolate dessert hot or cold using Cacao Barry chocolate. I quickly chose the sweetbreads as my main protein the other two courses didn’t come so quickly.

This is when my experience helped me the most. I knew the dishes needed to be as all dishes should be; flavoursome, simple, achievable in the time and attractive to the eye. I worked on some ideas for starter and main course and finally decided on my menu.IMG_7606 Starter: oyster panna cotta, scallop and apple tartar, chilled celeriac consommé, coastal herbs Main Course; roasted veal sweetbreads, garam masala, black garlic, turnip, sherry vinegar, girolles Dessert; modirofolo, ghana and zephyr chocolate, fig, ruby port, yoghurt (a variation on a rocky road).

So now for the final at The Restaurant Show and live in Earls Court. A nerve-racking day began very early packing the car ready for the short (distance) but long (time) drive into London at 6.30am. We began cooking at 1pm. We had two hours to cook the best we could we were allowed a commis to help wash up and generally organise, but no food preparation at all. I took Fred Wilson.

Fred’s been with me at Colette’s for a long time and he knows the way I like to work. We practised a few times before the event and organised ourselves well with regards to time, equipment and space. All of which is vital when you’re in a strange kitchen in front of a crowd of people. The last thing you want to do is work messy and appear unprofessional or not in control. The first hour seemed to go quite well and everything we did was on time and to plan (apart from the induction stove going down). The second hour flew by! It seemed that one minute it was an hour then I had five minutes left! 735J8361I’m not going to go into every detail but I was happy with the dishes I served and that’s really all you can ask for in a competition.

I haven’t yet mentioned the judges. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of or seen such an esteemed judging panel for a competition in this country. Not only is Philip Howard the Chair of Judges and Clare Smyth the Co-Chair, but we were also judged by Marcus Wareing, Tom Kerridge, Brett Graham, Jason Atherton, Bruce Poole, Monica Galetti, Julie Walsh, Hideko Kawa and Craft Guild of Chefs very own Organiser and Chief David Mulcahy.

As you can imagine when you’re faced with cooking for people of this calibre it is not only very intimidating but at the same time a dream come true. I have eaten in all of their restaurants and loved them. I admire anyone that does well in this industry but these guys really are some of the cream of the crop. So for me it was equally important to impress them, obviously if you impress them you’ve got a chance of winning. When my name was announced I was blown away. Speechless (doesn’t happen often).

Straight away I was asked how I felt. I said hungry. I was, but I don’t know why I said it. I was genuinely over the moon. My brother had come to support me and a whole host of colleagues from The Grove so I’m glad I didn’t disappoint them. I still can’t put it into words. You work so hard for something over the course of a year and then you achieve it. Now everyone asks me, ‘what next Russ?’ The answer is easy, this blog!         

>>> Read more of Russell's blogs here

Russell Bateman by John Arandhara BlackwellRussell Bateman is the National Chef of the Year, having won the competition at the Restaurant Show in October. He is head chef of The Grove in Hertfordshire and previously worked as head chef of The Feathers in Oxford. Russell joins a long line of great chefs to have won the prestigious award including Gordon RamsayDavid Everitt-MatthiasSimon HulstoneMark SargeantSteve LoveAlyn Williams and many more.        

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 18th November 2014

National Chef of the Year 2014: Russell Bateman, November 2014