NHS Chef: the standard continues to rise


Congratulations to Darby Hayhurst and Dylan Lucas from Royal Blackburn Hospital (East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust) who won the title of NHS National Chef of the Year 2023 yesterday (November 2).

The finals were held in a new venue this year, the Lainston House Cookery School near Winchester where the challenge was to cook and present a four-course menu in four hours, under the watchful eye of the judging panel, which this year included guest judge, Lisa Goodwin-Allen, Executive Chef of the Michelin-starred Northcote restaurant.

Now in its third year, NHS Chef is on an upward trajectory. Every year the organising team from NHS England adapt the challenges and keep them relevant to the issues that hospital caterers face every day. This year, for instance, included a 24/7 challenge for the first time, and chefs had to present lower carbon and allergen-free dishes. 

The standard also continues to rise. “The bar has been raised again this year, and the competition is incredibly close,” Phil Shelley, Estates and Facilities Senior Operational & Policy Manager at NHS England told HEFMA.

For their winning menu, Darby and Dylan – who were mentored by Hobart’s Evan Welsh – served: 

Starter: Cauliflower Three Ways – tempura, chargrilled and puréed

Lower Carbon Option (Allergen Free): Spiced Moroccan cakes, mixed beans, served with red cabbage, apple and carrot slaw

Main Course: Pan-fried duck breast, confit of duck leg croquette served with glazed carrots, fried midnight kale and golden beetroot with a red wine jus

Dessert: Choc, rock and pop crumble served with caramel drops and orange tuile.

For guest judge, Lisa Goodwin-Allen, Executive Chef of the Michelin-starred Northcote restaurant, the NHS Chef final was her first insight into the unique challenges of the hospital kitchen. She told all competitors: “You’ve done an incredible job.”

Lisa was particularly impressed with the inspiration, philosophy, planning and thought that all competitors had put into their menus to ensure they met the competition’s strict criteria, tasted great and were also creative.

“The energy in the room was great,” she said. “Whatever the sector, it’s important that people are given the opportunity, and a platform, to be the best they can.”

To even reach the finals of NHS Chef is quite an achievement – which involves the support of the entire hospital catering team as shifts have to be covered. Those who have gone through the process – which includes critical mentoring support - are then able to share their learning when they return to the hospital kitchen. As Simon Corben, Head of Profession and Director of NHS Estates and Facilities at NHS England confirmed, speaking at yesterday’s final: “As the quality continues to improve we are seeing that ripple out across the NHS.”

Darby and Dylan will return as mentors in next year’s competition.


Also reaching the final

• The runners-up were Ryan Corbett and Laila Darlington from Greater Manchester Mental Health Trust (mentor Martin Wright, Medirest)  

• Third place was awarded to Les Beare and Josh Banner from Wye Valley NHS Trust (mentor Alan Higginson, Rational) 

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