An interview with National Chef of the Year 2013 winner, Hayden Groves

The  Staff Canteen

Hayden Groves is the Craft Guild of Chefs National Chef of the Year 2013, having won last year’s competition at the Restaurant Show in October.

He is the executive chef at contract caterers BaxterStorey previously having worked as the executive chef for Lloyds of London. Hayden Groves joins a long line of great chefs to have won the prestigious award including Gordon Ramsay, David Everitt-Matthias, Simon Hulstone, Mark Sargeant, Steve Love, Alyn Williams and many more.

With this year’s competition having just opened for entries The Staff Canteen spoke to Hayden to find out how he did it and what it means to him…

Hayden Groves National Chef of the Year 2013

Hayden Groves

National Chef of the Year 2013

What was your approach to last year’s final?

I’d had a bit of an epiphany after the last few years, I’d always gone in not to lose rather than to win. I’d always focussed on not embarrassing myself and making sure I was proud of what I did. This year I looked at every ingredient and thought: does it warrant its place on the plate? If not, I’m not going to put it on there because I’ll be judged on that component.

When I’d done other competitions, such as La Parade I’d always looked at the blank white plate as a gold medal and anything you put on that as something that could take away from that gold, and that’s what I applied to this final.

Was there any moment when you thought it had all gone wrong?

You’re never certain but not really; this year was a little bit different really because in previous years my nerves had always
got the better of me. My first year in the final, my oven went out so I lost thirty minutes of cooking time – luckily I scraped a third that year. The following year I overcooked the grouse. But this year, no. You can always think to yourself – is it neat enough, did I get enough colour on the puff pastry, acid in the starter, have I put enough seasoning on the cut face of the meat? – all these little things, but there were no game changing errors as there had been in the years before.

A lot of that was thanks to my great number two, Peter Ley, who was my wing man. It’s very important that you pick someone who you work well together with. He owned that time plan and he was constantly drilling me: “Come on chef, you’re two minutes up,” or “you’re five minutes behind; come on, next job; you need to do this now,” and so on.

You’d competed three times before; how did it feel when you finally won?

Hayden Groves National Chef of the Year 2013

Hayden Groves

National Chef of the Year 2013

In previous years I’d been extremely nervous but this year after the two hours I thought, whatever happens, I’ve given a good account of myself; I couldn’t have asked any more of myself. So we all stood up there and they announced third place and I didn’t know if I was relieved or more felt more pressure.

Then they announced second and it wasn’t my name and I thought, okay I’m either in the bottom five or I’ve won, and that’s when suddenly, for the first time after the cooking, the nerves really kicked in. Then they called out the winner, “With a menu of mackerel...” half the people did mackerel. Then “beef” and I
thought, didn’t someone else do beef? Then they called out the dessert and I finally knew it was me. My face went into my hands and I just couldn’t believe it. I finally had something I’d wanted all my life.

You’re a determined guy; if you hadn’t won would you have kept on entering?

If I hadn’t have made the top three I’d have seriously questioned myself – was 2011, when I was third, my best year? Cheffing competitions can be very hard to get your head around. I used to race road bikes and if someone crosses the line in front of you, you can see that they’ve won; they were better than you, whereas cooking competitions are slightly subjective; what someone likes, another chef doesn’t necessarily. At the end of the day you can’t control what the other seven guys cook, you can only control yourself.

You were the first chef from a foodservice background to win the competition; how important do you think that is?

I think it was hugely important. I’m lucky to work with some top ingredients and a great brigade of chefs behind me who come from restaurant backgrounds, but we work in dining rooms where the public can’t come and dine. It’s almost like the secret

Hayden Groves National Chef of the Year 2013

Hayden Groves

National Chef of the Year 2013

restaurants. At the end of the day we’re all chefs; the restaurant guys are little bit more well known but we’re all doing the same job with the same ingredients coming through the door and cooking them to the best of our abilities. You only have to look at Alastair Storey, our chairman, coming top of Caterer’s 100 most powerful people in hospitality list, knocking Jamie Oliver off the number one spot. We’re obviously doing something right in the sector. So I was proud to represent my business in the competition but also the foodservice sector as a whole.

Why is the National Chef of the Year competition so well-respected amongst chefs and why does it mean so much to you personally?

From my perspective it’s the premium senior chef competition in the UK. There are other competitions like the Roux Scholarship, which is a fantastic competition as well but it’s only open to a certain age limit. For me you just have to look at the hall of fame – the likes of Gordon Ramsay, David Everitt-Matthias, Mark Sargeant, Simon Hulstone, Steve Love, Alyn Williams, the list goes on.

It was a competition I’d always aspired to win. For years I didn’t even dare enter. I used to go and watch the final and stand there in awe of these guys. But for anyone who does have aspirations to win it one day I would say just go ahead and enter. Put your paper entry in and see what happens. You never know.

How has it affected your career since you won?

It’s business as usual to a certain extent. A lot of people have wanted to talk to me, like yourselves following up the piece you

Hayden Groves National Chef of the Year 2013

Hayden Groves

National Chef of

the Year 2013

did on me when The Staff Canteen was very new. Back then I mentioned that I had a dream to be the National Chef of the Year so it was great that you followed up on that. I was also extremely proud to be featured on the cover of Caterer and Hotelkeeper magazine. I’m also doing some recipe writing and blogging for Borough Market.

I’m doing a demo at Hotelympia under the NCOTY banner. I’ve also got a pop up in the coming few months where I’ve got a restaurant for the evening and we’re going to run a National Chef of the Year evening. Details aren’t firmed up yet but The Staff Canteen will be the first to know when they are.

>>> Read more about National Chef of the Year 2013 here 

You can read more about Hayden’s experiences at last year’s National Chef of the Year competition on his blog It’s Not about the Grouse. To enter this year's National Chef of the Year competition simply submit a paper entry for judging to [email protected] by Friday 11 April where a shortlist of 40 chefs will be selected.


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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 7th March 2014

An interview with National Chef of the Year 2013 winner, Hayden Groves