The Craft Guild of Chefs, the organiser of the Knorr National Chef of the Year competition, has defended the system it used to reach a winner after two of its judges expressed reservations.
Judges at the competition, which took place at the Restaurant Show at Olympia in London two weeks ago, were asked to mark the 10 finalists independently and post their marks into sealed envelopes.
The marks were then ratified by the chairman of the judges, Steven Scuffell, and the winner - Mark Sargeant of Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's, London - was announced at an awards ceremony at the Sheraton Park Lane hotel, London, 24 hours after the live cook-off.
In the past, judges have discussed their marks openly and agreed on a winner.
Scuffell, speaking on behalf of the Craft Guild, said that the marks had been totalled correctly and that he and the association's chairman, David Mulcahy, were happy with the result.
"We feel that the competition was very well contested," he said. "The finals were close - any of the 10 competitors could have won - but Mark received the highest marks and that result is a fair and true one." However, at the awards ceremony, it was evident that several members of the 10-strong judging panel were surprised by the result.
According to Sargeant, Bruce Sangster, the 2000 winner of the award and a member of this year's judging panel, had placed him sixth.
"The minute I stepped off the stage, I walked straight up to Bruce Sangster to shake his hand," said Sargeant. "He didn't even look me in the eye. He just started shaking his head and saying something to the effect of, 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I just can't do this, I just don't agree. Your starter was fantastic but I had you marked down for sixth position.' He completely ruined the whole evening for me. It was like a blow in the stomach."
Sangster was unavailable for comment.
Fellow judge Alan Whatley, a lecturer at Brooklands College, Weybridge, and chairman of the Association of Pastry Chefs, said that he was "surprised" that Sargeant had won. Marking Sargeant's dessert, he had awarded just 11 out of a possible 25 marks.
But he went on to say that he did not question the integrity of either Scuffell or Mulcahy. "It's just the judges need to be able to have it out with each other," said Whatley. "You're never going to get a situation where everyone is happy, but you must have a consensus."
One former judge of the competition, who does not wish to be named, said: "Taking the marks away and adding them up in secret was a big mistake. The outcome should be argued out on the day. That way, the decision has been justified with everyone listening."
by Amanda Afiya
Source: Caterer & Hotelkeeper magazine, 3-9 October 2002