After competing at NCOTY for four years running (2010–2013), as well as acting as a speaker and mentor at last year’s event, I guess I'm well positioned to give you a rundown of what this day is all about.
The grand unveil is at Unilever’s HQ in Leatherhead. This is always much anticipated for two reasons; the onsite staff shop where generally anyone who visits comes away with half their body weight in washing up liquid, shampoo and Marmite. More importantly, it is the first time you get to see the definitive mystery list of ingredients you can use in the final.
The four semi-finals are held around the first week of July, so there is an almost limbo period after this for the eight finalists. Although each year’s basket is different, if this year’s finalists were anything like me, they would have looked back on previous finals as certain elements tend to carry over.
The day starts after much coffee drinking. It is the first time that the final eight are all together, sharing stories of the semi-finals and trying to second guess what will be in the basket. David Mulcahy, Vice President of The Craft Guild of Chefs and competition organiser, gives an overview of what will happen at the final, including essential timelines and additional guidance. Then the Chair of Judges, Claire Smyth talks about what she is looking for in the winner of this year’s competition; her words resonate around the room, as there can only be one winner from the eight chefs present.