A Mid Wales based chef has achieved a career dream by winning the National Chef of Wales competition at the fifth attempt.
Matthew Smith, 39, who lives in New Mills, near Newtown, won a final cook-off against eight rival chefs to win the prestigious title at the Welsh International Culinary Championships (WICC), organised by the Culinary Association of Wales (CAW) at Grŵp Llandrillo Menai’s campus in Rhos-on-Sea.
Smith, supported by 17-year-old commis Amy Phillips from Cheshire College South & West, Crewe, where he works as a chef lecturer, said he could not think of a better early 40th birthday present.
“It means everything to me because I have committed so much to training and developing myself and sacrificed money, time and mental health ,” he said. “This was going to be my last attempt to win the National Chef of Wales competition.
“I have put in a huge amount of work with the Culinary Team Wales, training junior members and making mistakes. Last year, I was too egotistical, thinking I was going to win the final and it gave me a kick in the teeth and showed me that I needed to listen to the advice I was given.
“It’s great that the dragon trophy has come back to Mid Wales (Nick Evans in 2006 and Neil Roberts in 2008 are previous winners). I also want to thank my commis Amy who is phenomenal.”
Smith said his three dishes were the best he had cooked in the competition, having been a finalist three times previously. “We did the full run through of the dishes seven times and the final was the best they had come out. Everything just flowed.”
The finalists cooked their own creative menu for a three course dinner for 12 people within five hours, using a majority of Welsh ingredients.
Smith served up a starter of baked carrot, pickled and creamed carrot, granola, tuille of carrot and carraway, cream of coconut and masala. Main course was loin of lamb, mousseline, tart if neck and chives, sheep’s cheese, broccoli, sticky braised celeriac, leek top emulsion, crispy roscoff onion, pomme puree and jus. Dessert was milk chocolate delice, hazelnut biscuit, dark chocolate mousse, blackberry ice cream, meringue, blackberries, warm chocolate hazelnut financier and praline.
Smith’s winning prize was £500, a set of engraved knives from Friedr Dick, £250 worth of Churchill products and the coveted dragon trophy.
Runner-up, who received £300, was Sophie Rowe, chef de partie at Gaerwen Arms, Gaerwen, Anglesey, who achieved success in her first competition, supported by her boss Andrew Tabberner, who was her commis. Tabberner is an ex-finalist and winner of the Junior Chef of Wales title.
Joint third were Wayne Barnard, senior chef de partie at Holm House Hotel, Penarth, Jamie Tully, executive chef at Chartist 1770 at The Trewythen, Llanidloes; Matthew Owen, head chef at the Celtic Collection, Newport, David Williams, head chef at Ty Cwm Gwendraeth, Llanelli, Robert Cave, head chef at Rookery Hall Hotel, Crewe, Dan Andree, head chef at Beach House Restaurant, Oxwich, Swansea and Dalton Weir, sous chef at The Cottage Loaf, Llandudno.
Andree won the new award in memory of Terry Willcock, a long serving judge and supporter of the CAW, for best dish in the final with his starter of salt baked celeriac, pine, apple and winter truffle.
Colin Gray, chairman of the judges and Culinary Association of Wales (CAW) vice president, praised all the chefs for having the courage to enter the competition.
“It’s a real honour to be crowned National Chef of Wales and to have that on your CV is a massive accolade,” he said. “We have seen some great teamwork and an eclectic mix of finalists this year from different parts of our industry which has been great to see.”
The WICC’s main sponsor is Food and Drink Wales, the Welsh Government’s department representing the food and drink industry. Other sponsors include Castell Howell, Churchill, Major International, Riso Gallo, Dick Knives, MCS Tech Products, Hybu Cig Cymru/ Meat Promotion Wales, Cambrian Training Company and Grŵp Llandrillo Menai.
Matthew Smith receives the National Chef of Wales dragon trophy from Minister Lesley Griffiths and Arwyn Watkins,OBE, Culinary Associaton of Wales president.