After waiting three years for his chance to represent the UK on the world stage, Sheffield-born chef Ian Musgrave has secured a place in the final of the celebrated Bocuse d’Or, a global cooking contest that has been described as the culinary equivalent of the Olympics.
Ian, who was the British Culinary Federation’s Chef of the Year in 2018, has worked at the Ritz Hotel in London for the past 11 years, where he is now senior sous chef.
Earlier this month, he travelled to Budapest in Hungary to compete in Bocuse d’Or Europe and won his way through to the final of the biennial world gastronomic championship, which is named after the celebrated French chef Paul Bocuse and pits the top chefs from around the globe against one another.
Ian had secured his place in the European qualifier back in 2019, having beaten off fierce competition from some of the UK’s finest chefs but had a three-year wait before he was able to go head-to-head with the top chefs in Europe due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, when he finally got the opportunity to demonstrate his skills, Ian cooked his way to a place at the Bocuse d’Or world final, competing alongside commis chef Adam Beaumont, who also works at The Ritz.
The pair were one of 16 teams battling it out for one of just ten places at the grand final, which will take place in Lyon in January 2023. They picked up a special prize for ‘best theme on the plate’ and secured eighth place overall. Ian says: “This has been three years in the making since we were selected to represent the UK as we had to pull out in 2020 due to the pandemic. It’s the first opportunity we’ve had since then to compete.”
Ian and Adam were supported in the contest by the UK team’s coach Tom Phillips, head chef at Restaurant Story, and team president Simon Rogan of L’Enclume, who hold six highly coveted Michelin stars between them.
Ian explains: “Each team has a president and the various presidents are also judges. But there’s also a kitchen jury made up of decorated French chefs who invigilate as you’re working. It’s very pressured and strict.”
The menus that he and Adam created are peppered with references to the provenance of their ingredients. Ian explains: “The idea of competing is to put the United Kingdom centre stage on the world culinary map.
“It’s an amazing chance to promote our hospitality industries, suppliers and producers. Every country wants to do something that shows off their best products. We have an amazing food scene and I don’t think the rest of the word fully sees that.”
When they competed in the European leg of the Bocuse d’Or contest, Ian and Adam had just five-and-a-half hours to prepare and present a theme on a plate and a theme on a platter, which had to be based on specific briefs and made using Hungarian produce.
For the theme on a plate, the chefs had to create a vegetarian dish from Hungarian varieties of potatoes. For the platter, they had to use a saddle and a leg of venison and one duck liver, and to accompany this with two garnishes served on the platter and a third garnish served on the side, based on sour cream and cottage cheese with one sauce.
Ian explains: “The briefs are released beforehand, but 14 portions must be presented on the platter and you have to make 14 portions of your dish too. It’s all about how you interpret the brief and you have to try to create something special, developing your recipe over many weeks and trying to perfect the different elements.”
For a chef who was recruited to work at the illustrious Ritz Hotel more than a decade ago, taking part in the Bocuse d’Or is yet another career highlight.
One might assume that Ian comes from a family of chefs, but his passion for cooking actually stems from his earliest travel experiences and watching the likes of celebrity chef Gary Rhodes on television.
He recalls: “It was going on holidays that first got me interested and then, when a friend of mine started at catering college and then got a job in a kitchen, it occurred to me that it was something I might like to do. I knew I didn’t want to go to university and felt like I was quite creative.”
Ian studied for an NVQ Level 3 Professional Chefs Diploma at Sheffield College whilst working part-time at a restaurant in his home city. He explains: “I had a trial in the kitchen where my friend was working and I enjoyed the atmosphere and camaraderie, so I started college, studying full-time and working part-time. “I really enjoyed meeting new people.”
When the time came for the students to leave college, Ian recollects how their lecturers would try to help them to secure work. He says: “My lecturer knew of a chef who was opening a restaurant in a five-star hotel in Cork in Southern Ireland. A couple of us went over to assist him with the opening and we were offered jobs. I was there for three-and-a-half years.
“The college did a fantastic job of bringing me through the course and I felt very inspired there. If it hadn’t been for the lecturers there, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
From Cork, Ian moved to a hotel in Kalamáta in Greece, which he describes as a “beautiful part of the world’” and where he enjoyed learning more about Mediterranean cuisine.
After completing the holiday season there, he took the opportunity to travel, exploring more of Europe by train, before returning home to spend Christmas with his family. It was as he began to explore new job opportunities that he was approached by a contact at the five-star Ritz Hotel in London’s Mayfair and invited along for a trial.
He has been there ever since and clearly still relishes the opportunity to cook in what’s widely considered to be one of the finest hotels in Europe. “It’s a brilliant place to work, with a great team, facilities and kitchen,” he says. “There are a lot of chefs and it gets very hectic. The produce that we use and the dishes that we’re cooking are all amazing.”
The team of chefs work under Executive Chef John Williams and cooking there has undoubtedly been a huge influence Ian’s style. He describes that as “quite classical with a few modern touches”, adding: “When you’re cooking somewhere like the Ritz, your style has to fit.”
Ian and Adam competed against chefs from Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France, Finland, Iceland, Hungary, Latvia, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands and Turkey in Bocuse d’Or Europe.
Ian firmly believes that our chefs and food producers are world beating and is now looking forward to the opportunity to represent the United Kingdom in the Bocuse d’Or world finals in January of next year.
“We’ll be getting together as a team over the next couple of weeks to start making our action plan, setting out how we’re going to prepare,” he says. “It takes a lot of time to prepare and it was a bit tight last time, but we made it. Now we have a great chance to get where we want to be - on the podium in first, second or third place.”