National Chef of the Year 2017: James Devine, December 2016

The Staff Canteen

This is the second in a series of monthly blogs from sous chef of EIPIC, which holds one Michelin star in the Michelin Guide UK, and winner of the National Chef of the Year 2017, James Devine.

Here it is, back by ‘not so’ popular demand, blog two, part two. We all know sequels rarely live up to the original so please bare that in mind.

I won't devote too much attention to the long training schedule as it's rather boring. What I will say is that I was extremely lucky to have the help and support of so many people. A special mention to my colleagues Stuart, Nathan and Jose. These guys gave up their own time to help wash dishes and asked for absolutely nothing in return.

Following an intense amount of training which saw me miss not one, but two ‘All Ireland’ football finals, all that was left to do now was board a plane, get to the Olympia arena and cook lunch. Unsurprisingly though the simple tasks can often be the most challenging.

Previous trips across the pond had often been a greater ordeal than the competition itself. Having learnt this lesson countless times before, it was imperative to get to London on this occasion with absolutely no hiccups. However, that seems to be something beyond my abilities.


Even though we arrived at the airport super early and got three large bags of knives checked in without a word, a nasty surprise lay around the corner. Our plane was called, just as planes get called. On our way to the gate however;


James Devine
James Devine

At x- ray they had deemed my suitcases a flight risk and needed to be investigated by the police before it could be cleared. This was a problem indeed. So I was now on my way to the biggest cooking competition in the whole of the UK and I didn’t have so much as a pot to piss in. I had nothing, no knives, no pans, no machines...not so much as a dish cloth. It was pretty difficult to remain optimistic on that flight over. This had actually been a recurring nightmare of mine and now it was actually happening.

The luck of the Irish was definitely wearing thin, but even though this was a disastrous start I still knew that we would get reunited with the cases and we would get to the arena and would win. Whether that was crazy, stupid or arrogant I'm not sure, but what I do know is that one year ago this predicament would have broken me. Experience was on my side now and I knew this was all just a minor set-back. We touched down in London shortly after 2pm, but by the time we had all the cases and got to the hotel it was closer to 9pm.

The final of NCOTY had arrived. We were here, we had the cases and we were ready to go. Arriving backstage was awesome, you could feel every nerve, it was super tense but twelve hours ago I didn't have so much as a wooden spoon so I was just delighted to be there, no longer in a pickle.

>>> Read more about James Devine here

Competitions go by so fast, two hours really does seem like twenty minutes when you're up there. Often when it starts the nerves take over and you spend most of the time willing it to be over so you can just breathe again. At least that’s how many of my previous experiences have been. However, this time it was so different, for those two hours I've never felt more comfortable cooking in all my life. I embraced it all, I cooked like this was my last ever competition and didn't give into fear, I never looked left or right at anybody else because it didn't matter.

Obviously I knew who the judges were but it never really hit home until I served the first course and they all appeared at once. Suddenly I was ambushed by Claude Bossi, Sat Bains, Daniel Clifford, Paul Ainsworth, Stephen Terry, Dan Doherty to name a few. Naturally, two starter portions between serval chefs doesn't go very far, but they liked it! They really liked it! So much so they actually asked for more. This alone was a career highlight. Main course and dessert followed with similar fashion.

It was over, a six month journey had finally reached its climatic end. Now came the hardest part of all...the wait. The agonising wait on the results. In this time all I could think about was the small little errors I'd made. It was horrible, I couldn't speak, I could barely breathe. What was worse I was allowing myself to dream, I knew I was close at least. Could I dare to dream? Did I actually pull of the impossible?

It was time, Clare Smyth was giving her final thoughts on the competition ahead of the announcement. When she finished, there was now only the results left. Words cannot describe how sick I felt. In my head I kept telling myself top three, I repeated that to myself over and over. They announced third and then second, at this point my whole body was shaking, every hair was on its end. One name left. I couldn't look up, I couldn't open my eyes, all I could do was wait. Then,

"...The winner is, with a menu of Tortellini, roast chicken, squash and sage veloute..."

'Tortellini' and with that word my whole world changed.

>>> Read more National Chef of the Year blogs here 

James Devine
James Devine

James is the National Chef of the Year 2017, having won the competition at the Restaurant Show at Olympia London in October. Until earlier this year he was sous chef at the Michelin-starred restaurant,  EIPIC based in Belfast and is now a chef at Noble, Holywood in Northern Ireland. James previously worked as a kitchen porter at a local restaurant and later became head chef at the Black Cat Restaurant and Deli on the Green in Dungannon as well as working part time as a college lecturer.  


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Editor 23rd December 2016

National Chef of the Year 2017: James Devine, December 2016