A Birmingham restaurant has pulled off a unique catering coup – having three winners of the Chef of the Year title in the same kitchen brigade.
Matthew Cheal, sous chef at Simpsons in Edgbaston, lifted the coveted title following a cook-off in London judged by industry luminaries such as Pierre Koffmann and Glynn Purnell, of Purnell’s restaurant in Birmingham.
Cheal’s victory in the British Culinary Federation Chef of the Year competition, sponsored by Coventry-based Aubrey Allen in conjunction with EBLEX and Moët & Chandon, means Michelin-starred Simpsons now has a trio of winners working in the same team.
Executive chef Luke Tipping won the title in 2000 and head chef Adam Bennett followed suit in 2005.
Cheal prepared an immaculate three-course lunch, starting with a dish of seared hand-dived Ross-shire scallops with orzo pasta, tender stem broccoli, broccoli purée and seaweed foam. The main course comprised rolled saddle of Cornish lamb stuffed with a tarragon and trompette mushroom mousseline with sweetbreads, baby onions and Charlotte potatoes.
Cheal admitted the pastry section was not his strongest area but produced an impressive dessert of caramelised poached pear, salted almonds, vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce.
The 28-year-old chef beat nine other chefs from across the country in the final at Hotelympia, having won a regional heat in Birmingham. He pocketed a top prize of £2,500.
Cheal started working in kitchens as a 16-year-old, progressing from washing up duties to preparing starters at the Arden Hotel – owned and run by his family – near the NEC.
He trained at the former Birmingham College of Food, now UCB, and did a work placement at Simpsons, then based in Kenilworth, as part of his course. He was offered a job by Simpsons’ chef/patron Andreas Antona when he qualified in 2000 and has stayed with the restaurant ever since.
Cheal, who won the junior version of the Chef of the Year in 2002, said he loves working for Antona and Tipping. “They have both been brilliant. I have worked very hard but they have been there every step of the way,” he said.
The Chef of the Year competition was originally set up for Midland-based chefs only but was opened to national applications in 2008.
Pierre Koffmann congratulated Cheal and his fellow competitors for their efforts, saying: “They should all feel proud to have competed at such a level and it is a credit to them that they had the courage and confidence to enter the challenge.”
Tipping said lifting the title was a great confidence boost for the winner and Cheal was arguably under added pressure to emulate his and Bennett’s earlier success.
Tipping said: “It is a great achievement for Matt. It is the next step up for him. But it won’t change him as a person. It’s back to business as usual in the kitchen.”
The catering industry, like all areas of the economy, has been hit by the recession but Tipping said there had been encouraging signs of recovery in the last two months with the corporate dining sector picking up.
He said: “We are turning the corner. In February and, so far for the beginning of March, there has been a return to more businessmen and women coming in for lunch. There has definitely been an upturn.”