At Dalata we do things differently. We want to ensure our people are empowered and continue to grow and develop in their careers and, in this edition, we catch up with Dalata’s Head of Food & Beverage and Procurement, Tony McGuigan, to find out how Dalata’s Chef Live competition is inspiring our senior chefs to express themselves and showcase their individual culinary skills.
The original idea for Chef Live stemmed from our Chef Development Programme as a way to try and bring our senior chefs to the fore and give them the opportunity to express themselves in the kitchen. It also allows our chefs to meet, mix, share ideas and enhance their skillset. At Dalata we believe in getting the best out of our people and developing people right throughout their careers.
This year was the fourth edition of the Chef Live competition, we had to put it on hold during the pandemic, but every year it has been running, it has been really well received across Dalata. There is always a good mix of entrants from both Ireland and the UK. The feedback we get from all of our people about the Chef Live competition is fantastic and it’s great to see all the hotel teams get behind their respective chefs.
Ultimately, the competition is as bit of friendly rivalry and some good-natured fun. I am incredibly proud of all our chefs. Their cooking techniques, mix of flavours and the balance in each of their dishes showcases everything great about the culinary industry. One of our core values at Dalata is individuality and the individuality of all our chefs was certainly on display throughout this year’s competition.
Each chef that enters our Chef Live competition has to go through the process of pitching menu ideas to a judging panel. Out of all the entrants, 12 chefs were selected for the semi-finals. From this stage, it is whittled down to just six chefs who compete in the final. This year, the final of Chef Live was held at Unilever Kitchens in London and saw the chefs presented with four key ingredients. They then had 30 minutes to produce a menu and three hours to prepare and present their two courses.
The judging panel was made up of our CFO Carol Phelan, our COO Des McCann, our Group Executive Chef Darina Brennan, myself and the competition’s most recent winner — Clayton Hotel Birmingham’s executive chef Stuart Devereux. Three external judges also sit on the panel, and they are the Executive Chef of Unilever Solutions Audrey Crone, the Executive Chef of Sysco Foodservice Ian Penn and the owner of Dublin restaurant Las Tapas De Lola, Vanessa Murphy.
We interviewed each of the six chefs to understand their choices, watched as they cooked the dishes and tasted each dish before picking a winner. This year’s winner was Jonathan Butterly. Jonathan is the sous chef at Maldron Newland Cross in Dublin. His main course was a supreme of duck and his dessert was a chocolate cremeaux. It was delicious and is now going to be produced by our supplier — Coolhull Farm in County Wexford — for the signature menu in Dalata Hotels across Ireland and the UK.
This was Jonathan’s third year entering the competition, so congratulations Jonathan! Your hard work, persistence and determination has well and truly paid off. I hope you enjoy the range of prizes you won, including a well-earned break at a Dalata Hotel for you and your partner, and I can’t wait to see how you put that full set of professional chef knives to good use!
Chef Live will return in 2024 and we can’t wait to see and taste what our talented senior chefs have in store for us! I would encourage everyone to give it a go. You may be unsure about entering but I would encourage you all to be like one of this year’s participants — Katie Leigh.
Katie is our sous chef in the Clayton Hotel Bristol City. This was her first time entering the competition and her Head Chef, Ian Bulpin, was a previous winner of Chef Live, so its fair to say she felt a bit of pressure. Thankfully, she loved the experience, and is really excited to get going again in 2024. Our winner this year, Jonathan Butterly, has entered Chef Live on three separate occasions. Only one person can win it each year and it really could be you.
Chef Live provides our chefs with a great opportunity to meet new people and learn different skills. We couldn’t be prouder of all our amazing chefs across Dalata but I know everyone who entered this year is a better chef for the experience.