Cracker Pack 2019

Young National Chef Ambassador Gets Stuck Into New Role

The new ambassador for Young National Chef of the Year has urged candidates who win a place in the competition semi-finals to ensure they are working from the “grass roots” up.

Mark Sargeant, proprietor of Rocksalt in Folkestone and Gordon Ramsay’s former right hand man, said 21st century innovation and new methodology were fantastic, but fundamental cooking skills were the first and foremost ingredient to success in the kitchen.

Mark, who earned a Michelin star for Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s during his time as head chef and currently has a regular cooking slot on ITV’s This Morning, offered the sage advice as 2002 winner of The National Chef of the Year, the biggest culinary competition in the UK.

“My worry is that young chefs today are getting confused by the sheer amount of modern techniques out there, but it’s a bit like being a footballer,” he said. “You wouldn’t expect to go straight into the Premier League. You’d get your fitness up first and it’s the same with cooking, start with the grass roots and build on that. I think the innovation going on today is fantastic, but it’s imperative to learn to cook properly first. You need a mixture of both.”

Mark, who is soon opening at Restaurant Plum, Spilt Milk and the GNH Bar and Kiosk at the Great Northern Hotel in Kings Cross as consultant chef, was invited to become the Young National Chef of the Year ambassador to inspire the next generation of ‘ones to watch’.

Tasked with providing advice to competitors and coaching them in the run up to the semi-finals and final, it’s a role Mark is getting stuck into. “It’s a big honour for me to be asked to be the competition ambassador, and I’m particularly excited about mentoring some great chefs in the making,” he said. “I won the Restaurateurs Association of Great Britain’s Young Chef competition nearly two decades ago, which certainly opened doors for me.

“What I would say is that the young chefs who make it through to the semi-finals must remember a few key things. Keep it simple and make sure your main ingredients actually go together. Don’t include too many items; the more you add, the more you will be judged on. The fact is that you can win a Michelin star with a relatively simple dish.”

Organiser of Young National Chef of the Year and The National Chef of the Year David Mulcahy said: “I am delighted that Mark will be supporting the Craft Guild of Chefs this year for what promises to be one of the greatest young chef challenges in the UK.

“His enthusiasm, passion and commitment in encouraging the young rising stars invited to enter will definitely have a positive effect and, as a winner of The National Chef of the Year, Mark is well qualified to mentor competitors from his own first hand competition experience.

The format of Young National Chef of the Year, in partnership with the Craft Guild of Chefs and Knorr, has been revised this year to reflect the fact that many more organisations are keen to be involved, opening the competition up to more young chefs across the UK.

Previously, eight chefs aged 18-23 automatically won a seeded place in the final. This year, however, four chefs will automatically go through to the final at the Restaurant show on Tuesday, October 8th, alongside The National Chef of the Year final. These will be made up of winners of young chef competitions from the British Culinary Federation, the Academy of Culinary Arts Awards of Excellence, North West Young Chef of the Year and WorldSkills.

The four remaining finalists will be made up of winners of two semi-finals, with chefs from the Craft Guild of Chefs Graduate Awards, Master Chefs of Great Britain Young Chef, Young Welsh Chef of the Year, Young Scottish Chef of the year, Young Game Chef of the Year, Young Grampian Chef of the Year, Young North East Chef of the Year and South West Young Chef of the Year all invited to compete.

The semi finals are set to be held at Sheffield College on June 18th and the University of West London on July 2nd to coincide with The National Chef of the Year semi-finals.

For more information, visit, contact Clair Bowman on 01293 610 329 or follow @TNCOTY #YNCOTY on Twitter.


Mark became passionate about cooking as a boy growing up in the heart of the Kent countryside, surrounded by a wealth of fresh fruit and vegetables available at the beginning of each season and local meat and fish from around the Kent coast. Mark’s first job after graduating from college was at Boodles Gentleman’s Club in St James’ London, working with Keith Podmore. This was a great introduction to traditional British food and an ideal training ground for the young chef.

Mark returned to Kent to work at Reads Restaurant in Faversham under the instruction of David Pitchford; during his three years as sous chef, Reads gained its first Michelin star. Back to London and a new position at Le Soufflé Restaurant at the Hyde Park Hotel where Mark worked with the late Peter Kromberg. He worked at the establishment for 18 months and whilst there, worked at Chez Nico on Park Lane on his one day off each week.

It was at his next position working with Steven Terry at Oliver Peyton’s Coast Restaurant that Mark won the Restaurateurs Association Young Chef title in 1996. It was also here that he met Gordon Ramsay and started to work with the ambitious chef at Aubergine. With the rest of the team, Mark went on to open Restaurant Gordon Ramsay as sous chef and stayed there for four years, during which time Aubergine won its three Michelin stars.

He then followed in Gordon’s footsteps by winning The National Chef of the Year. In June 2011, Mark opened two restaurants in the coastal town of Folkestone in Kent; Rocksalt and The Smokehouse Fish and Chips. Mark’s first cookbook, My Kind of Cooking, was published in October 2011,and he currently presents ITV Breakfast’s Saturday Cookbook also regularly appears on the BBC’s Saturday Kitchen and Food Network UK shows.


As the organisation behind Young National Chef of the Year, the Craft Guild of Chefs is the largest UK chefs association with members worldwide in foodservice and hospitality, from students and trainees to top management working everywhere from Michelin starred restaurants to school catering divisions.

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