NCOTY winner Kuba with Gary Jones and sponsors

They say, “if at first you don’t succeed, don’t give up!” This statement is certainly true for Kuba Winkowski, Head Chef at the Feathered Nest in the Cotswold village of Nether Westcote as he won the 2018 national ‘Chef of the Year’ competition. Serving a menu of Native Lobster, Oyster Emulsion, Celery, Sea Herbs Buttermilk followed by Yorkshire Grouse, Cabbage, Foie Gras, Quince, Celeriac, Seeds and a dessert of Sticky Toffee, Lemon, Clotted Cream and Walnuts, his dishes were judged by 21 of the UK’s best chefs, overseen by Gary Jones, Executive Chef from Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. Other judges on the panel included Tom Kerridge, Clare Smyth, Claude Bosi, Jonny Lake and Paul Ainsworth.

Runner-up was Head Chef George Blogg from Gravetye Manor with Derek Johnstone, Head Chef at Borthwick Castle taking third place.

Competition was fierce with top chefs from around the United Kingdom competing. Having got through to the semi final from an initial online entry which attracted many chefs wanting to compete, Kuba went through to one of 40 regional semi-finalists before winning his way through to the final ten. The ten finalists then attended a mentor day on the 11th September. At this stage, the chefs were given a mystery basket of ingredients to use in the final asking any relevant questions before they returned to their kitchens to devise a menu using a selection of these ingredients. On the day of the final, 2nd October, they had just one hour to do any pre-preparation and two hours to cook a three-course meal for four people.

Following a disappointment in the 2017 final, Kuba was determined that this year he was not going to let exhaustion spoil his chances.

“Preparing for the 2017 National Chef of the Year Competition, on top of the hours I already spend in the kitchen at the Feathered Nest, left me feeling totally burned out,” Kuba explains. “I have worked extremely hard for the past fifteen years and over the past six years, my focus has been on making The Feathered Nest what it is today. I have developed the menus and we have taken The Feathered Nest from a bistro pub to a renowned 3 AA Rosette restaurant with a reputation for excellence.”

Since October 2017, Kuba has completely changed his philosophy on life and has taken steps to lead a healthy life-style now finding time to exercise and eat a healthy diet. Having lost over 4.5 stone in the past 12 months, he felt more prepared for the 2018 competition.

“They say ‘Don’t trust a skinny chef’,” Kuba comments, “but having had a second chance of being a finalist in the 2018 National Chef of the Year competition, I have proved that a ‘skinny chef can cook! I am obviously super happy but for me the feeling of relief is immense. Coming back for a second time really helped because this time I knew more about the venue and the whole competition experience. This meant I only needed to think about the cooking.

Winning isn’t just about me as I have an amazing team around me and it takes dedication from us all, including my commis chef who has worked with me for hours on end over the last few weeks. Everyone who knows me will be sick of lobster and grouse as I’ve made them taste my dishes repeatedly. I am just so relieved the practice has truly paid off.”

“My exercise regime started with finding time in the afternoon to go for a 2-mile brisk walk around the village in which I work. This became interspersed with jogging and now I can run over 6 miles. Getting up earlier, I can do Pilates with my wife, swim and cycle to work two or three times a week. I also reduced what I eat. It is very easy when you are a chef to forget how many calories one eats each day when tasting the various dishes, we prepare. When you finish your shift, you are unlikely to eat a healthy meal.

Although I was eating good quality food through the day when checking the food being served in the restaurant, I was not eating a balanced diet. Initially I started by counting calories, now I eat a healthy diet having drastically changed what I cook for myself and my family. Not only have I lost a lot of weight, I no longer suffer with a back problem which I had suffered for some time. My attitude to life has changed too. My increased energy levels have restored my enthusiasm and motivation and I have encouraged my young team to take time to join me on long walks around the Cotswolds and take part in afternoon gym sessions, as well as considering the long-term health benefits of taking a different life-style option.

Since January 2018, the management at the Feathered Nest decided to operate only four days a week so we can give our team three days away from work, encouraging a healthy work-life balance. I know that there are many other chefs working in this industry who feel as I did twelve months ago, but perhaps do not understand how to take the first steps to make the transition.

I am very happy to talk to them and can easily be contacted via The Feathered Nest website www.thefeatherednestinn.co.uk/contact-us. Preparing for this year’s National Chef of the Year competition, whilst still very challenging, has been far more rewarding.”

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