National Chef of the Year 2017: James Devine, January 2017

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 27th January 2017

This is the third in a series of monthly blogs from former 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.

For his latest blog for The Staff Canteen, James discloses the events since winning the title of National Chef of the Year 2017 and how it is helping shape his future.

James Devine, National Chef of the Year 2017

James Devine,

National Chef of the Year 2017

I seem to have reached the unfortunate stage of my blogging career where I might actually have to talk about what’s currently going on in my life rather than continuing to milk the NCOTY material, but maybe there’s room for the glowing aftermath that followed that fateful day.

All in the space of a week Eipic retained its Michelin star, I'd won NCOTY, I celebrated a birthday and swiped myself right into the arms of a great girl. Hardly worth writing about surely, but here we go.

When I'd first heard about NCOTY, reading Ramsay's ‘Humble Pie’ some ten years ago, no part of me believed that one day I'd be among the same list of winning chefs. I won’t pretend that it was a lifelong goal because it wasn’t – to me it seemed so unbelievably ridiculous to even imagine participating! I kept an eye on it obviously and was always curious to see the winners, but at no point did I contemplate entering. Several things had to happen for me to reach such heights and unfortunately it wasn’t always pretty. I'd failed, I'd cried and I'd quit, sometimes all in the space of a day. Looking back now at what were a couple of really shitty years, I can see now that the heartache led me towards NCOTY. When presented with the opportunity to take part I decided NCOTY wasn’t going to be another loss, it was going to be a game changer.

In the initial moments after hearing Will Torrent announce the winner I was very careful not to shout out or scream in case I was horribly mistaken and had miss heard. All the visualisation in the world couldn't prepare me. I was floored. It was dream sequence stuff. Everything that happened after that was such a blur. Thankfully I’ve had the chance to watch it back. I kind of regret that I didn’t rush into the crowd and stage dive or do a 'Klinsmann' across the floor but at that moment I was immobilized with shock and awe.

It was much more than just a competition for me, it was a sense of validation and belonging. The title is incredible and to be placed among the list of previous winners is crazy. I'd won NCOTY! Yes the head judge, Clare Symth was a fellow Irishman but that was simply a coincidence. There was no fix here! I finally had my fairytale ending,

“...James and the Giant Reach...”

James Devine, National Chef of the Year 2017
James Devine, National Chef of the Year 2017

The events in the aftermath of the competition were incredible. The after party was at Fortnum & Mason. We don’t have places like this in Northern Ireland, this was a real treat. It’s typical the store closes in the evening, but we had an exclusive backstage pass just for us. This was certainly not your average Tuesday. The tables groaned under the weight of the food, literally, there was so much food. Whatever comes after gluttony we were passed that. There was champagne and beer on tap and in between all this were the legends of the industry, Sat Bains, Clare Smyth, Alyn Williams, to name a few. I was overwhelmed, humbled and so happy. I ate, drank and mingled. I’d like to say I joined the Young Chef of the Year in her subsequent celebrations into the wee small hours but I did not. Shattered, exhausted and with the allure of the hotel spa I retired early. The spa did not disappoint and it was ideal spending my first day as NCOTY without a raging hangover. I spotted a few of the younger contingent the following morning, 'filthy shades of green' comes to mind. I have trouble taking a decent photo when I'm 100%, so jacuzzis and snow rooms over jagger bombs and fireballs for me please.

>>> Read more about James Devine here

The morning after was incredible, I had gotten to London on the Monday before the competition and naturally I'd told everyone along the way why I was there - whether they wanted to know or not really! Seeing these same faces on the Wednesday and being able to tell them that I'd won was huge. Everyone was genuinely chuffed, our driver, the door man, the hotel reception staff, the ladies from the spa, security at the arena, the suppliers, the sponsors. It was really overwhelming just how big a deal this was and how much it registered with people outside of my circle. Sure, it was massive to me (and my Mum) but random people were coming up asking for selfies and everything. It's certainly not something I’m use to but I enjoyed basking in the glory and I’m just glad it happened while I still have my hair and straight pearly whites.

James Devine, National Chef of the Year 2017
James Devine, National Chef of the Year 2017

I had never really anticipated actually winning so when I was made aware there would be a winner’s lunch in Petrus I simply couldn't get my flight home as planned. Cue an awkward work conversation but I knew no one would begrudge me my moment in Petrus. It was just brilliant. I’m so grateful to Unilever, Knorr, The Crafts Guild, Mark Sargeant, Ruth Hansom and to Lahiru Jayasekara for an amazing meal. Every course was beautiful and it was certainly the perfect start to what’s shaping up to be an amazing year.

Despite having heard many sound bites and clichés about how NCOTY could change your life, I never really did appreciate just how big a scoop it was. Naïve of me really. Since winning it’s been quite a trip. I've been on the cover of a national magazine, got my very own The Staff Canteen video and blog, been immortalized in Lego, done a takeover in a Michelin-starred restaurant and been on the radio, but for me the highlight had to be job offers from both Alyn Williams and Simon Rogan. Never in a thousand years, even with the win, did I imagine having those conversations. Hopefully I’ll not live to regret my decision. It's been a whirlwind of wonderfulness and I beg the question, what’s next? Please let it be Saturday Kitchen!

Following an amazing eighteen months I left Eipic earlier this year and I am now enjoying some down time to help formulate plans for a venture of my own. It's early stages and I’m still not quite sure exactly what it’s going to be. Over the next year I'm involved with some pop ups to help develop the concept. It’s quite up in the air and a little daunting but luckily it should make for some good blogging.

Lastly, before I sign off for another month, I really want to thank some of the people I've met along the way since NCOTY who have helped make the experience very special and they should know how extremely grateful I will always be. 

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

James Devine, National Chef of the Year 2017

James Devine,

National Chef of the Year 2017

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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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 27th January 2017

National Chef of the Year 2017: James Devine, January 2017