VIDEO: Larry Jayasekara on winning National Chef of the Year 2016

The Staff Canteen

Larry Jayasekara, National Chef of the Year 2016, is from a tiny village in Sri Lanka where the food scene and life in general is completely different to that of London where he is now based.

He is currently senior sous chef at Michelin-starred Petrus, part of the Gordon Ramsay Group, and in October he beat seven other talented chefs to win the title of National Chef of the Year.

Larry spoke to The Staff Canteen about winning the prestigious award on his third attempt, working in the kitchen at Petrus and how it meant more to him to cook for the Michelin-starred judges than winning!

Larry Jayasekara National Chef of the Year 2016

Larry Jayasekara

National Chef of the Year 2016 

You’ve joined a very prestigious list of chefs who have won National Chef of the Year in the past, how does that feel?

It’s amazing, I almost cried when I heard I had won it. When they announced second place I closed my eyes and I said to myself ‘I’m not going to put myself through that again’. You put so much effort in and you want it so much, as soon as they called my name I just couldn’t believe it. It’s a massive achievement.

You used to think you weren’t good enough to enter, what changed your mind?

After all the places I have worked, I decided I would take a chance and give it a go to see how far I could get – even getting to the semi-final is an achievement. I got to the final in the first year I applied, but I was very naïve, you go into the final and you don’t know what to expect. You don’t know how the competition works or what the judges are looking for. I did it two years running and this year I just hit the brief and it all came together.

Did you learn a lot from your previous attempts?

It definitely gives you more confidence and you get to know how the whole competition works. You have to have a plan when you go in – it is two hours but you have to start serving within an one hour and ten minutes, that was my plan. If you don’t plan you will get behind and you will start serving average dishes, you don’t want to put those in front of judges of that level.

They are top guys in the industry. Winning was absolutely brilliant but cooking for that line-up of judges, 31 Michelin stars, that was just a privilege. You don’t get to do that every day and getting their opinion, good or bad, you have to take it on board because what they are saying will really help you either in the competition or when you go back to your own kitchen.larry quote

How did you get into the industry? My dad was a chef in Sri Lanka but when I came to the UK I couldn’t get a job, the only way to get a job was to go into the catering industry. I started working in a Thai restaurant in Torbay prepping vegetables a couple of hours a day and then I did two years at college. When I finished I came to London and joined the Gordon Ramsay company – I’ve never looked back!

Was it hard making the transition from a small village in Sri Lanka to living and working in London?

It wasn’t easy settling in here, I came from a small fishing village where I used to go surfing every morning – life was completely different. Here you’re in the kitchen all day, absolutely going for it, it’s just a different world. I couldn’t have done it without my wife’s support. Sometimes I think ‘I wish I was back at home’ but I wouldn’t change for a second what I am doing, I love it. It’s like a drug, you won’t give up until you reach the top and that’s the same way I looked at the competition.

What’s it like working at Petrus and did they support you in preparation for National Chef of the Year?

The whole team has been really supportive, giving me the time off to practise and the others chefs tasted the food – sometimes when you work at this level of restaurant you don’t always have time to do that.

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

Petrus has a really good team, it is hard work and it’s not easy – we work 16/18 hours a day. So when you have a competition like that it’s difficult, you have to worry about the kitchen being ready for the guests but you don’t want to go into a competition and not win it.

Larry Jayasekara National Chef of the Year 2016

Larry Jayasekara

National Chef of the Year 2016 

Since winning have opportunities started to come up for you?

It’s a busy time of year anyway but I’ve had a lot of interviews with different publications and they are hoping to get me on Saturday Kitchen.

As you’ve said, you are always busy but what do you like to do when you’re not in the kitchen?

I go out eating, I want to see what the other guys are up to, see the trends and what they are doing different to us. That’s the goal, I want to see why they have two stars and we only have one. It’s those finer details and how they achieve that – at this level you want that second star. You ask yourself every day, ‘what can I do better’. You have to stand out, there are so many restaurants in London and we want to be on top.

Would you encourage other chefs to enter National Chef of the year? For me it’s the most prestigious competition in the country and everyone should be entering. It’s well organised and you have some of the best chefs in the world judging – it’s a great experience. Anybody who wants a challenge should enter.

>>> Read more from Larry Jayasekara here

By Cara Pilkington


Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 10.54This video is brought to you in association with: ElectroluxEvolveLe Cordon BleuKnorr 

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The Staff Canteen

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Editor 27th November 2015

VIDEO: Larry Jayasekara on winning National Chef of the Year 2016