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

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 5th May 2017

This is the fifth 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.

This month the National Chef of the Year 2017 winner explores the picturesque surroundings of Switzerland and Geneva, visits the Nespresso Production Centre and gets thrown into the kitchen with five other chefs.

Nespresso Production Centre
Nespresso Production Centre

Another blog due, another country visited and a further step forward in my own business venture. It’s been a pretty decent few weeks I guess! After what’s been a very busy year thus far I am relieved to report this past month has been nice and slow, sad news for The Staff Canteen though. Therefore, I think I’ve no choice but to covertly slip the lyrics of various Beatles songs in throughout this blog, not only to increase the word count but to also to distract from how poor an edition it is.

Last month I had the very fortunate opportunity to travel with the Nespresso chef’s academy, to Switzerland as part of the NCOTY prize. This was my first visit to the country so as I boarded the plane thinking of nuns, Nazis and Julie Andrews, I was quite excited! The scenery is every bit as picturesque as I’d imagined but standing, gazing in awe at the sunny, snow-peaked mountains and rolling green hills, I felt truly inspired and lucky.

I landed in Geneva and had some free-time before all the organised fun began. My first order of business was in making a new man friend, which really isn’t as easy as you’d think at the ripe old age of thirty-one (I once tried an app, but it turned out not to be what I thought and consequently got me into an awkward, ‘I want hold your hand’ type of situation). It turned out he was Canadian Jamie Oliver type chef who also on the Nespresso tour. Company sorted, I was keen to see some sights so we made for the concierge at the hotel who insisted on a visit to Les Bains des Pâquis. This is a man-made peninsula area right on Lake Geneva, resplendent with two swimming pools that I was assured became saunas in the summer months. A lovely place to chill out, surrounded by bars and restaurants. If you’re ever in Geneva I thoroughly recommend it, try the fondue, it’s delicious.

James Devine at the Nespresso Production Centre
James Devine at the Nespresso Production Centre

On Monday morning myself and five other chefs boarded our yellow submarine and headed off to the Nespresso Production Centre in Romont. I made up the Irish contingent, while the other chefs were mainly French. To my shame, I was the only man there who never bothered to learn a second language and since my GCSE French isn’t as strong as it used to be, everyone else had to sacrifice their preferred language so I could participate. I only wish I could have returned the favour and spoken clearly and eloquently in my native tongue- but, I’m a country boy and the way we talk is seldom understood, even by our own.

With absolutely no disrespect to Nespresso, I think my personal highlight of the trip was the bus journey. It was almost a two-hour drive and the scenery was breath taking. The hills were literally alive with the sound of music. Vast mountains and lakes as far as my eyes could see and strawberry fields forever. Simply stunning. I usually have a strong napping game when on a bus but I couldn’t waste the experience. Fortunately, we happened to be going to a coffee plant so I wouldn’t be tired for long.

>>> Read more about James Devine here

The factory itself was quite impressive from the outset. Very clean and modern. Immediately I think we all felt like we were in a Charlie and the Chocolate factory type experience. As the lovable Irish chef, I was obviously Charlie in this scenario, so I was safe. The French speakers however, not so sure. I didn’t spy a Mr Wonka type character but the high-vis orange jump suit wearing workforce did create a certain ‘oompa loompa’ vibe, they would twist and shout as they operated their various posts. We got a full tour of the factory and saw the coffee process, from raw bean to Nespresso coffee pod. What I found most impressive was how clean it was, I’ve worked in factories myself and this was unlike any I’d ever seen. We walked around over an hour and I didn’t so much as see a dusty footprint or an out of place cardboard box. Nespresso run this programme for chefs just twice a year so it was a rare opportunity to understand the principles behind its development. We were also quite fortunate our group had been made smaller than normal which allowed for us to come together as a cohesive unit for a more in-depth experience.

Tea from Nespresso Production Centre
Tea from Nespresso Production Centre

I’ve been drinking tea a lifetime so I’m aware there’s a world of coffee I know absolutely nothing about. I tried my best to soak as much of the experience up as possible. Advertising had already taught me it’s a drink enjoyed by attractive movie stars but I had my suspicions there was more to it. The easiest way of describing the complexities is to compare it to wine. Another subject I know very little about, but the confusion about the various intricacies was a familiar feeling. Despite the overwhelming amount of information, I really appreciated the workshop. I left with a richer knowledge and an enthusiasm to get back and apply the lessons learnt in my own future endeavours. It’s an excellent product for its levels of consistency and flavour but I’m still very much a tea drinker.

Following a day of drinking black coffee, with a hard day’s night ahead, we boarded the bus again and headed to Auberge de la Croix-Blanche in Villarepos. Here we received wonderful warm hospitality from the owners Christa and Arno Abacherli-Bauters. A real gem of a place, stunning views, beautiful rooms, chocolates on the pillows and of course a WIFI connection. Add to that, a Michelin star restaurant, amazing really. Dinner was delicious, the wine was great and bizarrely we all had more coffee afterwards.

The next day the workshop focused more on the pairing between food and coffee. I personally had only ever explored this in pastry but it was interesting to see it used in other ways. I always like the part when they take six chefs, all who don’t know each other, and make them go work in a kitchen together. What could possibly go wrong? We can work it out, right? Part of me was a little nervous as these guys were from one and two starred kitchens across London and France. Myself, on the other hand is in the process of opening a café in Northern Ireland. In the end though it was a bit of fun, and I need not have worried, it wasn’t a competitive or tense environment which is unfortunate because I really made a much better attempt at it than the other big boys!

James Devine
James Devine

It was a great trip and a wonderful opportunity and I’m indebted to Nespresso and the Craft Guild of Chefs for enriching my life with the experience. Following our two-day intensive programme, we were all presented with diplomas in coffee tasting. This was a nice touch and a great souvenir to mark the trip. All good things must come to an end so we boarded the bus once again before heading back on the long and winding road to the airport. I look forward to working with Nespresso in the future and hope to visit Switzerland again soon.

May promises to be an equally eventful month with yet more pop ups, restaurant awards, business development and my first professional appearance the world-renowned Balmoral Show – it’s quite important in local circles. Promise.

It seems like only yesterday I filled out the NCOTY entry and I’m very proud to be the chef lucky enough to the enjoy the title. I don’t say it enough but thank you so much to the Craft Guild of Chefs and David Mulcahy for this past year, it been amazing.
Wrapping up, I’d just like to take this opportunity to wish all the contestants on this year’s Great British Menu all the best, especially the Irish chefs. It’s great having it back on our screens and I always enjoy watching our local chefs promoting the Northern Ireland food scene.

James Devine, National Chef of the Year 2017
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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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 5th May 2017

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