FEJ AWARDS 2021 SHORTLIST: Executive Chef of the Year, sponsored by Panasonic

Executive Chef of the Year

The Executive Chef of the Year award, sponsored by Panasonic, recognises that whether it is restaurants, pubs, care homes, contract caterers or any other professional foodservice business, the group executive chef, food director (or any other similar title) has one of the most important roles to play when it comes to what happens on a kitchen level.

From creative menu development and food sourcing to kitchen specification and roll-outs, this accolade honours those individuals that are excelling in their posts.

We are delighted to announce that the 2021 shortlist includes the following individuals:

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Alice Bowyer, Liberation Group

There has been no kitchen slowdown for Alice Bowyer as she has overseen a raft of menu and operational developments at The Liberation Group and Butcombe Brewery. It reopened its UK pub estate with brand new menus in all businesses including 21 pubs from Wadworth acquired last year. Meanwhile, some seven major kitchen refurbs, each with their own identity and food offer, were completed during lockdown. Alice has driven a move towards more efficient kitchens, which has led to a shift from gas to induction and investment in high-spec fryers. It has also embraced space-saving solutions in terms of refrigeration, new areas for the pass, routes to the wash-up areas and multi glasswash and dishwash areas in high volume sites. Innovative equipment choices have also allowed it to transform over 20 new acquisitions from heavily pre-prepped food offer to 100% fresh food. 

Duncan McEwan, The Big Table

Duncan McEwan has been steering some exciting culinary concepts at The Big Table, the entity formed to acquire and operate the popular Bella Italia, Cafe Rouge and Las Iguanas restaurant brands last year. Having been with the company for almost 13 years – it was, of course, previously the Casual Dining Group – the talented executive development chef has been involved in shaping the menu direction of established brands such as Cafe Rouge as well as newer concepts like The Mulberry, an all-day eatery and cafe bar featuring contemporary and nostalgic dishes. Duncan has also worked on dark kitchen developments, but arguably the biggest highlight has been the creation of the food offer for Amalfi, The Big Table’s premium Italian brand that has just landed at Center Parcs Woburn with its open kitchen model. 

Lee Brooks, McMullen & Sons

Lee Brooks is responsible for the development of the menus at McMullen’s, with the offer built around six food concepts that are constantly developing. Colleagues praise his supportive approach during lockdown, while the company’s willingness to invest in its kitchens has been fuelled by his belief that a comfortable environment with the right equipment drives chef retention. Lee has overseen several key London openings that have required an innovative approach to kitchen planning, with the company opting for solutions such as stackable ovens for smaller footprints. In pubs where it only had accelerated cooking platforms in place, combis have improved the quality of Sunday roasts and boosted chef confidence. He has also brought in equipment that totally changes the way it can cook and hold, allowing it to meet demand in high-volume sites where space is tight.

Ryan Holmes, Eurest

As the culinary head of Compass Group’s B&I division, Eurest, Ryan Holmes has certainly seen the dynamics of workplace catering change dramatically during the pandemic, but he has embraced this challenge in keeping with the company’s ethos of innovation. He relishes pushing boundaries and is especially focused on plant-based cooking and waste reduction. Ryan has played a central role in implementing a shift in food philosophy at the business over the past 12 months. Although its strategy is still based on the three longstanding pillars of providing flavourful, mindful and planet-positive food, it has tweaked its food offer and menus to reflect the new catering landscape. One of the big highlights of lockdown has been the launch of Kitchen Club, giving employees access to virtual cooking lessons from professional chefs and providing education around nutrition.

Simon Howlett, Shepherd Neame

The extraordinary challenges facing the pub industry during Covid did not deter Simon Howlett from making sure the 300-strong chain emerged from lockdown with a food offer to reignite growth. A particular focus on meat-free alternatives has led to the launch of several key items, including vegan hotdogs, meatballs and children’s dishes, while the clever streamlining of menus sites to place more emphasis on specials and seasonal offerings without the fear of potential supply issues. Simon has overseen the introduction of cleaner grills and auto filtering fryers across the estate, making kitchens more comfortable, easier to maintain and cheaper to run. Renowned as a calm and empathetic leader in the kitchen, colleagues hail the role he has played in creating a framework for the mentoring of young chefs.

The 2021 FEJ Awards ceremony and gala dinner takes place on Thursday 23 September, the first evening of the Commercial Kitchen show, at the Hilton Canary Wharf.



Tags : Executive Chef of the YearFEJ AwardsFEJ Awards 2021Panasonic
Andrew Seymour

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