Why you should enter the National Chef of the Year competition, blog by Kuba Winkowski

The Staff Canteen

My name is Kuba Winkowski, I am the head chef at The Feathered Nest Inn in the Cotswold and National Chef of the Year 2019.

The Staff Canteen has given me a great opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences in this monthly blog.

Over the next few months, I would like to tell you about my journey to winning this prestigious title and how it has affected my everyday life.

Last Wednesday, as I was scrolling down through Twitter, I noticed a message from Craft Guilds of Chefs informing that entries for NCOTY 2020 are open.

Automatically, I rushed to their website to check the brief for this year. I was full of excitement and a little bit nervous while waiting for website to load. I felt this sensation for last couple of years at exactly the same moment.

The text appeared on my screen, half way through the reading I stopped and reminded myself: "Wait a minute, I don’t have to worry about it. I am the National Chef of the Year."

There is no doubt that this competition can be a daunting and sometimes overwhelming challenge, especially when you look at the task ahead, prestigious judges you have to impress and the list of previous winners.

I can bet that many of you found yourself in the dilemma of whether or not to enter.

I remember exactly how over the years I was growing the confidence and courage to enter.

Many of my work colleagues took part in YNCOTY and NCOTY, so I had been exposed to the idea for a while. I watched the finals during Restaurant Show in Earl’s Court in 2014, when Luke Selby and Russell Bateman won their titles.

This was the moment when the seed was sown. I was excited by the whole thing, the challenge, the buzz and the prospect of cooking for all of those great chefs in the jury.

Deep down I knew that NCOTY was something I would like to be part of, however it still took me another 3 years to enter.

In 2015, I was in the process of developing my own cooking style, repertoire and building my team at The Feathered Nest Inn.

That took a lot of afford and time, so I didn’t feel like I had enough energy to submit my entry or simply I didn’t feel confident enough. Then came the 2016 brief.

I remember like it was yesterday. I was sitting in my car, around midnight after work, reading it. I felt adrenaline pumping through my blood, almost a cold sweat. Excitement and fear at the same time. I was contemplating my entry for next few weeks, but in the end I chickened out.

I had all this different thoughts in my head: am I good enough? What if I fail miserably? What will people say?

When I think about it now, it was basically a lot of nonsense.

Finally my year had come. In 2017, I had grown to the challenge and I applied.

Now is the question: Have I wasted my time by waiting so long? Maybe I should push myself outside my comfort zone a little bit earlier, but would I be ready? Would I have enough skills to be successful? Who knows?

The National Chef of the Year is one of, if not, the hardest competition for chefs around. It is very complex, requires many skills, a lot of time, courage and dedication.

If you are a little bit apprehensive, not confident or even maybe scared of entering this year, do not panic. Challenges are always daunting and it is natural to shy away from them. Don't forget that to make progress, you need to go out of your comfort zone and push yourself. In my personal opinion, I should have entered in 2016, but I overthought it.

Do not waste your time or worry what other people may say, just go for it and start thinking about the task. You have nothing to lose, only to gain. In every stage of the process you develop and expand your skill set. You are becoming a better chef.

Deadline is on 22nd of March, so crack on as it will come sooner than you think. Maybe you will be National Chef of the Year 2020!

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About Kuba Winkowski

Kuba has enjoyed cooking for as long as he can remember. He grew up in Poland where the restaurant scene and eating out culture hardly existed, a career as a chef was not highly regarded and did not give many perspectives - cooking was thought of only as a hobby.

He came to the UK to learn how to cook professionally, first at The Thanet College in Kent, then at Broadstairs in Kent.

Kuba won cooking competitions in two countries, did stages at Le Gavroche, Rhodes 24, Buckingham Palace and The British Embassy in Paris. His first full time job as a Commis Chef in Le Manoir aux quat’ Saison under Raymond Blanc and Gary Jones.

In February 2010, he joined the Timmers as Sous Chef, becoming head chef two years later. In his first year running the kitchen, Kuba was awarded 3 AA Rosettes. The chef has appeared on Saturday Kitchen on BBC2, Saturday Morning with James Martin on ITV.

Photo credit: Hospitality Media

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Editor 11th February 2019

Why you should enter the National Chef of the Year competition, blog by Kuba Winkowski