Leo Kattou: 'As you do your day-to-day, you don't realise, but people do see you'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

Leo Kattou confirmed one of life's great lessons when he was crowned the BCF Chef of the Year 2021 last week: if at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

A finalist in the 2018 competition and a semifinalist on MasterChef: The Professionals 2017, Leo understands the value of competitions in the pursuit of excellence. 

Elated to have won the award, his victory was all the sweeter from having been the BCF's first live competition in three years, with a panel of judges that would make any chef in their right mind tremble: the famed Brian Turner CBE; Le Gavroche head chef Rachel Humphrey, chef owner of eponymous two star restaurant Sat BainsAshley-Palmer Watts, who spent twenty years contributing to the success of Heston Blumenthal's award-winning restaurant groupAdam Smith, head chef of The Dorchester Collection's one Michelin-starred restaurant at Coworth Park; and 2018 BCF chef of the year, sous-chef at The Ritz and UK Bocuse d'Or team member, Ian Musgrave.

"To cook for those six judges was brilliant," Leo said, "and to get the great feedback I got from them was incredible." 

This was the first competition he took part in, however, into which he went in feeling collected and composed. In past competitions, he said, "I was always so nervous and put too much pressure on myself."

This time, he said: "I was nervous, nobody's ever not going to be nervous, but once I started cooking, I just smiled and enjoyed it." 

"My commis was brilliant, we were geared up for what we needed to do but we were able to have a bit of fun and just enjoy it."

'To win with [Luke tipping] there, it meant a lot'

To have won the competition in 2021 feels particularly special to Leo, as everyone attending the competition and awards - including President Peter Griffiths, and EVP Andreas Antona -  seemed so grateful to be there.

"It was so nice, I guess a lot of them hadn't seen each other for two years so the atmosphere in the room was brilliant," Leo said. 

As with every competition he's ever entered, Leo received great support from his mentor, Simpsons chef director Luke Tipping, for whom he has worked for the past 13 years. 

"He's brilliant, he's such an amazing guy. Everyday we look forward to working with each other, we push each other and support each other." 

"He was a great inspiration for me for BCF, because I did the young chef four times, I came second three times, I won best main course every year I was there and I never won it. I didn't win the senior last time so I was getting fed up of it.

"To win it this year and for him to be there, to be able to enjoy that evening with him made it all worthwhile. It's a bit emotional because I've worked for him for so long, he's seen me grow from a sixteen year-old boy to now. So to win with him there - it meant a lot."

A chef's competition

As with many BCF award-winners before him - Simon Hulstone, Matt Cheal, Jordan Bailey and Luke Tipping, to name a few - we know to expect great things from Leo Kattou, but for now, he has plenty to focus on at Simpsons.

"I just get my head down and crack on," he said, with the restaurant getting even busier in the run-up to Christmas, the relaunch of their At Home range next week and some chef pop-ups in the pipeline for the new year. 

Pushed on what his next move might be, he said: "We'll see. I'm still young, I'm only 29 and there are a few things on the table," but nothing to announce in an immediate future.

Whatever the case, having won BCF means more to him than just raising his profile among his peers, which it undoubtedly will. 

"It was just nice to get messages from chefs, Sat personally sent me a message, loads of other chefs sent their congratulations..."

"As you do your day-to-day, you don't realise but people do see you, and some of the chefs that messaged me, I guess you don't realise that they're looking. It's very humbling."

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 25th October 2021

Leo Kattou: 'As you do your day-to-day, you don't realise, but people do see you'