Phil Howard's top tips on how to win competitions

The Staff Canteen

The S.Pellegrino Young Chef competition is back and looking for the next emerging talent from across the globe to be bestowed the title of world’s best young chef following in the footsteps of past winners George Kataras 2017, Mitch Lienhard 2016 and Mark Moriarty 2015.

Former two Michelin starred chef and competition judge, Phil Howard speaks to The Staff Canteen about what the judges are looking for in this year’s competition, offers his advice to young chefs looking to succeed in the industry and shares his top tips on how to pass.

The global contest that receives applications from over 90 different countries each year was set up by S.Pellegrino in 2015 to help give younger chefs the chance to learn from and work with some of the industry’s top chefs as well as provide them with worldwide recognition.

Phil Howard's top 5 tips

1. Flavour is everything - keep this as the focus. Dishes that have impact at the judging table are always far more delicious than they are either technical or innovative.

2. Ensure you are following the guidelines/brief accurately

3. Rehearse - as often as you can. Practice makes perfect.

4. Discuss your menu and ideas with your head chef - he will certainly know better than you!

5. Keep it simple - complex dishes will cause problems down the line.

Speaking of competitions in general, Phil said: “entering competitions is one of the many ways chefs can help to progress themselves in a disciplined and competitive environment. No one wins a competition through luck - it requires great focus, strategy, hard work - and a bit of luck. Kitchens can be very inward looking and getting out and meeting other chefs offers great exposure.”

Phil Howard Biography

Having started his career working for the legendary Roux family in the late 1980’s Phil later moved on to open the critically acclaimed, The Square with Nigel Platts Martin where he remained at the helm for over 25 years. During this time, Phil earned two Michelin stars for The Square, an accolade he retained for an incredible 17 years before his departure to open new venture, Elystan Street situated on a former Tom Aikens Restaurant site.

Phil on how to keep staff

But to be as successful as Phil the chef says it’s all down to his team and that finding good, talented and hard-working chefs is the single most important part of the job.

“The next problem is to keep them - so maintaining a good working environment is critical, ensuring that chefs are learning, progressing and happy,” explains Phil.

Securing talented staff is a challenge most chefs are struggling with this day and age so what advice would Phil give to a younger chef looking to succeed? Stay put.

“Moving every year, or more often as is often the case, is not the answer.”

Phil explained, “learning your craft, improving your skills and allowing your palate to mature is key to success. They must also accept that generally speaking it is important to learn your craft before getting promoted to senior positions. Due to the lack of staff in our industry young chefs are over promoted all too often.”

Mitch Lienhard, S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2016 Winner
Mitch Lienhard, S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2016

S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2018 competition

Coming into its third year, the S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2018 is well under way having announced the 10 finalists from 21 regions worldwide earlier this year.

From now until December the semi-finalists will compete in local challenges with each jury composed of a group of leading chefs selecting the best signature dish from each of the region’s semi-finalists who will then go on to compete in next year’s final.

So, what will Phil and the rest of the judges be looking for this year? Phil said: “Delicious, well executed dishes that display solid craftsmanship and a good understanding of flavours and season.”

The local jury for UK & Ireland is made up of Philip Howard, Angela Hartnett, Alyn Williams, and Mickael Viljanen. The local final will be held in London on Wednesday, October 4, 2017.

By Michael Parker



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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 25th August 2017

Phil Howard's top tips on how to win competitions