Thomas Swaby, NCOTY 2022: 'To have National Chef and to progress as I did with it helped lay a lot of things to rest for myself'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

"It was definitely a surprise on the night," Thomas Swaby, crowned Craft Guild of Chefs' National Chef of the Year 2022 at the group's annual awards ceremony last week.

The chef, who already competed and reached the finals last year, felt like he may not have won - mostly because he was competing alongside a promising group of chefs including runners up Adam Smith, sous-chef at Michelin-starred Gravetye Manor, and Ben Boeynaems, executive chef at The Beaumont Hotel in London.

Screened at the Everyman Broadgate cinema near Liverpool Street Station, the Craft Guild decided this would be the best way to run the awards in a pandemic-proof way, but seeing himself compete on the big screen didn't give Tom any assurance that he had in fact taken the title.

'You can't really prepare for it'

"Watching it back I thought, 'oh no, maybe I've missed out this year again, back to the drawing board'. When they called my name - you can't really prepare for it, there was just a lot going through my mind. I was genuinely shocked, and obviously proud that it was me, but surprised," he said. 

Without wanting to sound reberbative about receiving an award on one of the most difficult years British hospitality has ever faced, he said: "especially with me, everything has been horrendously up in the air and more chaotic this year," as he was the sous-chef at Roux at Parliament Square when the restaurant was forced to close.

Thanks to the Roux family's relationship with the restaurant group, the chef moved from Roux APS to Inverlochy Castle in Fort William, but when the chef left his position there, "everything ground to a halt career-wise." 

Though he is now set to go to St Vincents in the Caribbean, where he will spend six months mulling over his next move, the chef was glad to have the competition as something to focus his mind and efforts on. 

"To have National Chef and to progress as I did with it helped lay a lot of things to rest for myself," he said.

When he does return, he will be doing so knowing that he has won an award previously earned by some of the industry's greats - from Gordon Ramsay to Alyn Williams, Simon Hulstone, Phil Howard and Steve Groves - and that many opportunities will likely be open to him. 

"It gives me good time for reflection for when I get back," he said, "and push on from there."

Looking ahead

The ultimate dream for Tom would be to open his own restaurant, but he is cautious of jumping into anything to hastily. 

"It'll honestly be, see where the land lies next year. I'd love to head up my own place again, but at the same time, working for someone is something that I'd be more than likely to do because there's still plenty for me to learn. 

"For me, it'll just be assessing opportunities when I get back and going from there - especially with the climate as it is, to set anything in stone right now feels a bit loose."

Part of his award is a £7,500 subsidy towards his own project, which is something else he would like to give some thought to before he makes any hasty decisions.

"I don't want to be wasteful with it, it's a massive opportunity - just using that platform - so that's something I want to get to grips with," he said. 

And with Christmas in the Caribbean to reflect, he said, "I can think of worse places to think about it." 

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 28th October 2021

Thomas Swaby, NCOTY 2022: 'To have National Chef and to progress as I did with it helped lay a lot of things to rest for myself'