Young Chef Young Waiter 2020: Meet The Finalists

22 December 2020

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Last week, we announced the finalists for Young Chef Young Waiter UK and China / South East Asia competition were announced for 2020. The sixteen UK finalists and nine China / South East Asia finalists were chosen by our UK Head Chef Judge Theo Randall, UK Head Waiter Judge Simon King and Chairwoman of China / South East Asia Judges Ching He Huang.

They are:

Young Chef Young Waiter UK

Finalists for Best Young Chef of the Year are:

Alexandra Henderson, The Lansdowne Club

Ali Halbert Hencote, The View

Freya Popham Restaurant Associates, Societe Generale

Lewis Glaister, Scott’s

Liam Smith, The Gleneagles Hotel

Masudi Nestor Pene, Claude Bosi at Bibendum

Peter Meechan, Gleneagles Hotel

Valère Ruiz, 14 Hills

Finalists for Best Young Waiter of the Year are:

Cristina Daniela Ciutac, Gaucho

Declan Wilkins, The Hand and Flowers

Florian David, The Waterside Inn

George Smart, The Chewton Glen Hotel & Spa

Hellie Honney, The Gleneagles Hotel

Martin McRae, The Gleneagles Hotel

Remy Baben, Wild Honey St James

Ruhit Abdul, Hide Restaurant

Young Chef Young Waiter China / South East Asia

Finalists for Best Young Chef of the Year are:

Qing lee Chen, Imperial Treasure

Tibor Palasti, The Sushi Bar Harrods

Maurine Lordios, Kai Mayfair

Kevin Hoang, Lu Ban

Finalists for Best Young Waiter of the Year are:

Sabrina Aquilina TĪNG Restaurant, Shangri-La Hotel, At The Shard, London

Julien Peigneux TĪNG Restaurant, Shangri-La Hotel, At The Shard, London

Marie Bouquet, TĪNG Restaurant, Shangri-La Hotel, At The Shard, London

Simone Rizzo TĪNG Restaurant, Shangri-La Hotel, At The Shard, London

Iris Buchner, A Wong Restaurant

We’ve asked some of our finalists a few short questions to get to know them a little better.

Young Chef Young Waiter UK – Finalists for Best Young Chef of the Year

Alexandra Henderson

Name: Alexandra Henderson

Place of work: The Lansdowne Club

Age: 26

A short quote on what it means to be a finalist of Young Chef Young Waiter: It means a lot to me to be a part of this competition again. I’m very much looking forward to pushing myself even more this time and competing with some of the best young chefs about. Especially after how tough this past year has been for our industry it will be a good thing to focus on and be proud of.

Top three things that make me happy: Pleasing people with my food, travelling and trying different cuisines and ways of cooking, spending time with family and friends. 

Who is my hero and why?

My hero would have to be my head chef Neil Ramsey, He has dedicated a lot of time to me with teaching and advice. He pushed me to be better when I was lacking dedication and drive. I would definitely not have the experience or passion for food today if it weren’t for him believing in my ability. I will always look up to him throughout the rest of my career.

What is my favourite food/cuisine? My favourite food to cook would be classical british/ french cuisine. I love the amazing produce we can get our hands on in the UK and I feel when you know the classics of British and French cuisine combined you will be able to create some exceptional plates of food.

What is my favourite restaurant? My favourite restaurant would be a place called A Quinta in The algarve, Portugal. For me dining out is about memories and eating at this restaurant has some of the best memories for me. When I used to go to Portugal 3-4 times a year with my family this was always where we would all look forward to dining at the most. It was run by an English family that would treat their guests as if they were very close friends returning each time. Their food was always delicious and faultless. I remember my sister and I would always look forward to their spinach and rocket salad with perfectly toasted walnuts and croutons with the ripest/ sweet cherry tomatoes and the finest slices of red onion on top.It was all brought together with the most delicious creamy salad dressing. Simple I know, but so perfectly made. Their seafood was also at the very best and will always be my favourite restaurant. 

What is your favourite food memory?

My favourite food memory would be eating in my first ever Michelin Star restaurant with my mum when I was 18. It was Murano owned by the amazing Angela Hartnett. That was the first time I could say that being a chef of that level was what I wanted to do. Every plate of food we had was full of simplicity and packed with flavour. The service was the best I had ever experienced and to top it all off at the end of our meal Angela herself came out to our table and gave me some great advice as a chef just about to enter the industry in London.

Young Chef Young Waiter Finalist

Name: Lewis Glaister

Place of work: Scott’s restaurant Mayfair 

Age: 26

A short quote on what it means to be a finalist of Young Chef Young Waiter: I am delighted to be in the YCYW finals for a second year in a row. Last year was a great experience and although this time round will be a little different, I am still super excited to compete.

Top three things that make me happy: Making people smile with my food, good coffee, a good service where everything goes well and there is a good flow.

Who is my hero and why? My dad is the guy I look up to, he’s not in the industry, but he’s always worked very hard and that always inspired me to do the same growing up.

What is my favourite food/cuisine? I love eating food with spice, mainly fresh spices, so probably food from south east Asia.

What is my favourite restaurant? Favourite restaurant – a little Indian restaurant near my mum and dads home in Manchester. It isn’t the most glamorous, but there is nowhere I look forward to visiting more when I am back at home.

What is your favourite food memory? This has to be when travelling in Thailand, riding round on scooters and finding random little places that were serving the best Pad Thai or Tom Yum soups. Also the markets selling anything you could think of, those are amazing food memories for me.

Liam Smith

Name: Liam Smith

Place of work: Gleneagles hotel

Age: 25

A short quote on what it means to be a finalist of Young Chef Young Waiter: I am very proud to be a finalist of young chef young waiter 2020. The opportunity to test myself and show how far I have come since I first started in the hospitality industry is something I relish. Reaching the final is a great honour and I cannot wait to get started. 

Top three things that make me happy: I enjoy reading a lot. I find it is a good way to clear my head and unwind after a busy shift. Living in a rural area means there are plenty of areas of natural beauty to explore nearby, I especially enjoy getting up early and going walking in the hills to get some fresh air. Spending time with my family and all being together makes me happy, it is something I am looking forward to being able to do again soon. 

Who is my hero and why? The first job I had in hospitality when I was younger was in a pub kitchen, my boss at the time was a man called Andy, he invested a lot of time in me and pushed me in the right direction when I did not know what I wanted to do with myself. I would not be where I am today without him. 

What is my favourite food/cuisine? My favourite style of cuisine, at the moment, is Japanese food. I think it is amazing the skill and precision the chefs who prepare it demonstrate. It is something I would like to learn more about. I would love to travel to Japan in the future to find out more about the food culture out there. We are also very lucky in Scotland to be surrounded by some of the world’s best produce, from scallops and lobster to venison and grouse. We have an abundance of great food on our doorstep and I would like to explore it all in the future.

What is my favourite restaurant? My favourite restaurant is Restaurant Andrew Fairlie. I recently dined there for my birthday. The food was fantastic, and the front of house staff were extremely attentive and made us feel at home. I love the way the dishes used different flavours and techniques to create amazing combinations. The whole experience was brilliant. I look forward to eating there again soon.   

What is your favourite food memory? My favourite food memory would be the first time I visited Paris. I was amazed by the great food all around.There are so many places to eat, restaurants, bakeries, cafes etc. I remember eating from a small restaurant with my girlfriend. It was very casual, but the food was amazing. Just Sitting outside watching the world go by. I had a fantastic time. The highlight of the trip was when we dined at Restaurant Auguste, a Michelin star restaurant on the rue de Bourgogne. I had a dish with chicken and octopus for my main course. The flavours were out of this world. The experience really opened me up to what you can achieve in cooking.

Name: Peter Meechan

Place of work:  The Gleneagles Hotel

Age: 24 

A short quote on what it means to be a finalist of Young Chef Young Waiter: It is a great honour to make it to the final of Young Chef Young Waiter, as one of the country’s most prestigious competitions I am very proud to make it this far and to have a chance at the competing against other young chefs. I feel it is a great achievement to make the final.

Top three things that make me happy: I am a very keen fisherman, I love the time it gives me to unwind after a hard week at work. I love cooking whether at work or at home you will always find me in the kitchen. The thing that makes me happy though, is spending time with my family. Just catching up with my siblings It is really important to me.

Who is my hero and why? If I had to choose a food hero it would be Andrew Fairlie. Andrew’s commitment to Scottish produce has inspired me a great deal. He was the only chef in Scotland with two Michelin stars and his legacy continues to inspire young chefs. I like the way that he ran his kitchen with a great deal of calmness and respect for all his chefs. I have been fortunate enough to make the final of the Andrew Fairlie Scholarship 2019 and I am hopeful to do the same this year. 

What is my favourite food/cuisine? In Scotland we are surrounded by great produce so it’s difficult to pick a favourite food, I really like cooking and eating game. It’s an area I want to focus on over the next year or so to expand my knowledge of game birds and the best way of cooking and serving them. I am also working closely with the Indian chefs in the Dormy kitchen at the moment. I love the way spices are balanced to create great flavours. Also the way the meat is marinated before cooking in the tandoor oven. It completely changes into tender pieces with big flavours.

What is my favourite restaurant? My favourite restaurant would be Restaurant Martin Wishart in Edinburgh. I have eaten there many times and it is consistently outstanding food. The style is high end fine dining using Scotland’s best produce and cooked with a lot of French technique. I think he is the benchmark for Scottish fine dining. After eating there, I am always inspired to go back to my kitchen and try to repeat this level of consistency. The front of house staff make you feel very comfortable and know their menus very well, they can always help when you’re not sure about what to order.

What is your favourite food memory? The first time I ate in a Michelin starred restaurant. It was The Kitchin in Edinburgh and it blew me away. I had never experienced anything like it before. Not just the food but the service as well. I loved the way each dish was described with a lot of passion and information. I had a sweetbread ravioli as a starter, it I will always be one of my favourite dishes. The food was excellent, but it was the whole experience that made it such a great meal. 

Valère Ruiz

Name: Valère Ruiz

Place of work: 14 Hills, D&D, London

A short quote on what it means to be a finalist of Young Chef Young Waiter: I am grateful for this opportunity, I am very excited to challenge myself.

Top three things that make me happy: Travelling, cooking and making people happy discovering my cuisine, music.

Who is my hero and why? My hero in hospitality is Pierre Gagnaire, he is my role model in the industry. He is creative, an excellent business man and has accumulated 16 Michelin Stars for 23 restaurants.

What is my favourite food/cuisine? I love every type of cuisine, I am always happy to discover new dishes, tastes and recipes in my travels.

What is my favourite restaurant? Mirazur, at Menton, France.

What is your favourite food memory? When I went for the first time to a Michelin star restaurant, it was delicious. I still remember the menu and I loved the experience of being a customer.

Young Chef Young Waiter UK – Finalists for Best Young Waiter of the Year

Cristina Daniela Ciutac

Name: Cristina Daniela Ciutac

Place of work: Gaucho

A short quote on what it means to be a finalist of Young Chef Young Waiter: I am grateful for this opportunity and I feel honoured to be part of YCYW2020 family. 

Top three things that make me happy: I love taking a walk in nature, it brings me peace and happiness. I also love a good book and a nice glass of wine. 

Who is my hero and why? There are many people that I look up to in this industry, but a special mention to my current team, they have been my second family in the last years. I am thankful to have them all, they have taught me so much and they have always encouraged and supported me.

What is my favourite food/cuisine? Cauliflower is my absolute favourite, fried, baked or pickled, I cannot stop eating it.

What is my favourite restaurant? I like trying new restaurants and different cuisines, so therefore I do not have a favourite one, but I appreciate the places that put their passion in food and service.

What is your favourite food memory? The freshly grated zest of orange and lemon reminds me of the time I  used to bake cakes together with my mother and sister, just before Christmas or Easter holidays. Such a happy time for us, we would all get together and enjoy the delicious meal that my mother prepared.

Name: Declan Wilkins

Place of work: The Hand and Flowers

Age: 25

A short quote on what it means to be a finalist of Young Chef Young Waiter: I am so honoured to be in the final again, the competition taught me so much and I feel I have grown as a waiter and my aim is to always excel and I feel this competition is the best way to do it.

Top three things that make me happy: Making guests happy, cooking and football.

Who is my hero and why? Fred Serieix. I have watched how he deals with guest and always makes them happy, and he is always positive which rubs off on the guest.

What is my favourite food/cuisine? Asian Cuisine.

What is my favourite restaurant? Hakkasan.

What is your favourite food memory? When I was growing up, my mum made a layered pork chop casserole every Saturday.

Florian David

Name: Florian David

Place of work: The Waterside Inn, Bray

Age: 23

A short quote on what it means to be a finalist of Young Chef Young Waiter: Being a finalist is of course a wonderful achievement. I am proud to represent the Waterside Inn, as well as all my colleagues who helped and trained me. It is a reward after a complete year on the professional side. I can’t wait to meet young talents and some of the best professionals in the UK.

Top three things that make me happy: Meeting family and friends, spending time at the family farm with my father, discovering new cultures and learning new skills.

Who is my hero and why? I am very proud I had the chance to work with Michel Roux. He is an example for me. I’ve rarely met people who are that charismatic, involved in a company and caring about all his employees. He inspired a lot of people, me included, and he wanted to change the whole fine dining world. I wish I could’ve learnt more from him.

What is my favourite food/cuisine? I’m in love with food in general. I always try new cuisines, new wines. I particularly like sharing with my friends. When we go to a restaurant, we always order lots of dishes to share between all of us, to try everything. I’m French, a meal is not complete without cheese!

What is my favourite restaurant? Les Flocons de Sel in Megève. It is unbelievable how Emmanuel Renaut is close to nature and how he makes his dishes reflect that. This is definitely the spirit I’d like to inject in my own restaurant. The front of house staff is wonderfully managed by his wife, and every guest couldn’t have a warmer welcome.

What is your favourite food memory? My meal at The Fat Duck. I qualify it as a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience. I’ve never been that surprised in a restaurant. I was amazed by the capacity of  both the front of house team and the kitchen team to personalise each experience. I realised then how happy we can make people in a restaurant.

George Smart

Name: George Smart

Place of work: The Chewton Glen Hotel & Spa

Age: 20

A short quote on what it means to be a finalist of Young Chef Young Waiter: It is an amazing privilege to be chosen as a finalist and can’t wait to show my skills and knowledge in this competition. A bonus is to getting my name out there to help with possible future career opportunities.

Top three things that make me happy: Wine, football and the people I love.

Who is my hero and why?

Alex Von Ulmenstein who was my restaurant manager when I first started my career. His passion, knowledge and his ability of reading people’s emotions is a room was inspirational. To get where he was at his age at the time is a goal of mine now.

What is my favourite food/cuisine? My favourite meal has got to be my Nans homemade Roast Beef with all the trimmings. Obviously partnered with the perfect red wine (Chateau Musar when treating myself).

What is my favourite restaurant? The Jetty. The service and food is exquisite and the wine list is stunning.

What is your favourite food memory? My favourite food memory has actually got to be spending my first meal at The Chewton Glen. Having the tasting menu and experiencing so many flavours which I’ve never tried before. Also the first time I tried a wide range of wine. I believe that night has got to me to where I am today. 

Hellie Honney

Name: Hellie Honney

Place of work: Gleneagles Hotel 

Age: 18

A short quote on what it means to be a finalist of Young Chef Young Waiter: To be recognised by my manager and to be put forward for the competition was already amazing, but making it to the final is an outstanding feeling, I hope to make the Gleneagles family proud!

Top three things that make me happy: Family, my achievements, friends.

Who is my hero and why? I would say my hero in hospitality is my manager at the clubhouse, Houssem Belabed, Being from Tunisia he came to Scotland with not a great knowledge of English, but with hard work and determination he learnt the language and climbed his way up the ladder at the Gleneagles Hotel. Houssem always knows how to inspire an individual and the team to always try their best and if we do fall he’s there to pick us back up straight away. He treats his team like his family and supports us at work and personally as well, when I one day get to be in the position he is in, I will run the restaurant with his methods and treat the team like he’s always treated us.

What is my favourite food/cuisine?  Since my family is half Italian, I would have to say Italian cuisine is definitely my favourite, as it feels like home.

What is my favourite restaurant? Madliena lodge in Malta is my favourite restaurant as it was always the go to family restaurant for special occasions when we moved to Malta in 2010.

What is your favourite food memory? My favourite food memory I would say is trying a gorgeous Thai green curry for the first time in Thailand.

Name: Martin McRae

Place of work: Gleneagles Hotel 

Age: 23

A short quote on what it means to be a finalist of Young Chef Young Waiter: It is an incredible honour to be selected as a finalist of this great competition. I am very much looking forward to competing when we are able to do so. On a personal note, being a finalist fills me with confidence that I do have what it takes to make it in this industry.

Top three things that make me happy: As I have moved out of my parents’ home to live closer to work, it is always nice to go home for a couple of days and spend time with my family. I also enjoy watching football whenever I get the chance to. I really enjoy cooking at home, I’m definitely not the best chef yet however I’m getting there.

Who is my hero and why? I wouldn’t say I have just one hero within hospitality. I would have to give this one to my colleagues around me who motivate and support me on a daily basis.

What is my favourite food/cuisine? Italian. There is nothing quite like the combination of freshly made pasta and fresh, local ingredients. 

What is my favourite restaurant? The Birnam Brasserie at The Gleneagles Hotel.

What is your favourite food memory? I took my family to the restaurant I currently work in, The Birnam Brasserie. We were looked after incredibly well and surprised with small dishes before the starters and main courses. The food was outstanding which, along with the service, made the evening a special one.

Remy Baben

Name: Remy Baben

Place of work: Wild Honey St James

Age: 26

A short quote on what it means to be a finalist of Young Chef Young Waiter: I am absolutely thrilled to be selected as a Young Chef Young Waiter finalist. Being alongside those young talented professionals and being able to develop my skills and my network by sharing a moment with the industry leaders means a lot to me.

Top three things that make me happy: Professional achievements, family time around a tasty dinner and a great bottle of wine, personal improvement.

Who is my hero and why? I always refer to two different individuals in our industry. Diego Masciaga, obviously, ‘the master of service’. To be able to deliver this level of excellence for so many years is very impressive. He is a model of passion and dedication. The second one is Tilman Fertita, there is so much to learn from him on managing and developing a hospitality business. Both of their books are a true inspiration.

What is my favourite food/cuisine? Being born in Nice, Mediterranean cuisine is the only choice. Olive oil over butter.

What is my favourite restaurant? Wild Honey St James aside, I would say The Grill at the Dorchester for the room and the style of cooking, Noble Rot for the Wine List.

What is your favourite food memory? It’s hard to say, but the most recent one would be the beef dish I had at Pollen Street Social right after the first lockdown. A filet from the Lake district, with confit shallots, mushroom tarte fine, truffle and a buttery mashed potato served on the side. I enjoyed it with a glass of St Joseph from François Villard, it was a real treat.

Ruhit Abdul

Name: Ruhit Abdul

Place of work: Hide

Age: 23

A short quote on what it means to be a finalist of Young Chef Young Waiter: I’m super duper excited!!

Top three things that make me happy: Travelling around the world, wine and of course my job.

What is my favourite food/cuisine? Octopus is my favourite type of seafood, but also red meat such as steaks or briskets are competing for first place. If I have to choose a type of cuisine for life, it would be Greek.

What is my favourite restaurant? Meraki, cosy greek restaurant in Fitzrovia.

What is your favourite food memory? When I was younger and started to cook for myself sometimes, I remember the first time I made Carbonara and the result wasn’t too bad, still not perfect, but felt so good for making it and enjoyed it a lot.

Young Chef Young Waiter China / South East Asia – Finalists for Best Young Chef of the Year

Qing lee Chen 

Name: Qing lee Chen 

Place of work: Imperial Treasure 

Age: 24

A short quote on what it means to be a finalist of Young Chef Young Waiter: It’s just like a dream for me, I can’t wait to cook with other contestants and bring in front of the judges.

Top three things that make me happy: Cooking food with family, being recognised by guests and learning new skills/techniques in kitchen.

Who is my hero and why? Definitely my head chef – Chef Boon. He has more than 20 years of experience in the kitchen. Which means I have learned a lot from him, not just skills for cooking, but also the attitude of being a real chef. 

What is my favourite food/cuisine? A lot. Something crispy like roast duck etc. (Asian)

What is my favourite restaurant? Imperial Treasure.  

What is your favourite food memory? Definitely home cooked food like what my grandma used to make for us. That’s unique. It’s hard to describe, but I will still miss it. 

Maurine Lordios

Name: Maurine Lordios

Place of work: Kai Mayfair

Age: 20

A short quote on what it means to be a finalist of Young Chef Young Waiter: It always seems impossible until it’s done.

Top three things that make me happy: Travelling, trying new things, cooking.

Who is my hero and why? My hero is my mom because whenever I’m feeling miserable just a phone call or simple talk from her and everything will fall into their right place. 

What is my favourite food/cuisine? Filipino food, my comfort food. 

What is my favourite restaurant? In our house, home-cooked food with a touch of love. 

What is your favourite food memory? Stir fried noodles and sweet and sour chicken because whenever I’ve done something good that needs a celebration, I always end up buying this food and it’s enough for me to feel the warmth of my simple accomplishment.

Tibor Palasti

Name: Tibor Palasti

Place of work:  The Sushi Bar, Harrods

Age: 26

A short quote on what it means to be a finalist of Young Chef Young Waiter: It’s an honour to be a finalist of Young Chef Young Waiter 2020 competition. It feels good to know that I have impressed the judges. It means a lot to me I really want to win.

Top three things that make me happy: Winning, achieving my goals and learning new things.

Who is my hero and why? Gordon Ramsay because I have been watching his cooking shows since I was a kid. He knows a lot about food and a great chef. I respect him.

What is my favourite food/cuisine? Japanese Wagyu beef (food) Hungarian / Chinese/ Japanese (cuisine).

What is my favourite restaurant? Amazonico London.

What is your favourite food memory? When me and my family went to Spain for holiday and tried many of the restaurants in Malaga.

Young Chef Young Waiter China / South East Asia – Finalists for Best Young Waiter

Iris Buchner

Name: Iris Buchner 

Place of work: A.Wong Restaurant , Victoria London

Age: 24

A short quote on what it means to be a finalist of Young Chef Young Waiter: It means a lot to have this opportunity to learn and show what skills I have.

Top three things that make me happy: Three things in my life that make me happy are my passion to work and family.

Who is my hero and why? I am lucky that I don’t have only one hero. My personal heroes are my managers, Nathalie Beaufond and Chinorbek Yakshilikov, as they taught me a lot in my workplace but also in my personal life. They will always be a huge part of my life. 

What is my favourite food/cuisine? I don’t have a specific favourite cuisine as all cuisines have their specialities.

What is my favourite restaurant? To be honest, I don’t have a favourite restaurant. I am a very open person, so always happy to try something new.

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