28 November 2022

An interview with Young Chef Academy winner

Marcus Clayton

Former East Sussex College Hastings Catering student, Marcus Clayton, won the UK finals of the prestigious S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy Competition last month, and has spoken to the College about his journey so far.

In October, Marcus, 26, from Broad Oak, Rye, reached the UK finals of the competition following an impressive performance in front of an international judging panel. Marcus was one of ten young chefs competing in the competition held earlier this month. Each had to provide a signature dish to a panel of judges. Marcus’ winning signature dish was celeriac, apple and mushroom.

Marcus will now represent the UK in the Grand Final in Milan next year, where he’ll compete against three other inspiring young chefs. Lisa Goodwin Allen, Executive Chef at Northcote, will mentor Marcus as preparation in the lead up to the Grand Final.

Speaking to the College about his involvement in the competition and how it came about, Marcus said, “One day I was just scrolling on Instagram, which is a great platform to use and see what other chefs are up to, I’d highly recommend following other decent chefs to get some inspiration. I was just scrolling through and saw a post from Sat Bains who’s a chef in Nottingham, and he was basically saying how there’s this competition if you want to get ahead. I wanted to. My girlfriend pushed me to apply, so I applied.

“[At the competition] we had to cook a signature dish that had to represent your beliefs and you as a cook. I submitted a dish of celeriac apple and mushroom. When I entered I didn’t expect to win, but fortunately I’m very grateful to have won. Having such an esteemed judging panel of two-star and one-star chefs enjoy my food was an amazing feeling. It hasn’t quite sunk in that I’ve got to do it again and go to Milan to cook globally for England, but I look forward to it.”

Marcus added, “At the first stage of the competition, Allister Barsby, my current head chef, was also my mentor. He helped me tweak the presentation and get that really sharp. And now having won, I move on to the next stage which is in Milan and I compete against around 15 other countries on an international level. My mentor now is Lisa Allen, which I’m very excited about. I think the next round will have two- and three-star chefs on the judging panel.”

Marcus studied at East Sussex College, finishing in 2015. He says, “I studied at Hastings campus starting with Level 2 Catering. I then went on to do Level 3 Kitchen Larder and Level 3 Patisserie. Studying at the College was really good fun, I still remember all the tutors. I see Neil Sadler all of the time around Rye, and Jeff Jordan. They were two of my favourites. They were really good at encouraging me and pushing me to do well.

“After college I wasn’t really sure what to do, I knew for sure I wanted to do a ski season over in France, which I can highly recommend! It was a good way to cook, have fun, and you obviously get to snowboard too! It wasn’t until I came back from my season when I realised you could really go far in the industry. I took a ‘chef de partie’ job at a local hotel in Rye, The Mermaid Inn, where I worked for a couple of years. I then wanted a bit more so I looked around at three Rosette restaurants and ended up moving up to Tunbridge Wells to a restaurant called Thackeray’s which is three Rosette. I found myself in the pastry section and did just under a year there. From there I just wanted more.”

“I found another chef over in Kildonan Down, who’s ethos was to grow all their own veg, rear their own animals, we did a bit of foraging, and we really got to play around with the menu and have fun with it. Now I’m over in Hythe at a restaurant called Hide and Fox, I work under a chef called Allister Barsby, who has a wealth of experience. He spent eight years with Michael Caines, some of those years as a head chef at Gidleigh. So he has a wealth of experience and I’m the junior sous chef."

He added, “In the future I would like to run my own restaurant, which would be vegetable focused, showing that a piece of celeriac can be as impressive as a rib of beef or a fillet for example.”

Marcus also gave advice to students looking to get into the catering industry. He said, “If you enjoy cooking it’s not a chore. If you make delicious stuff, it keeps you going. I think there’s always a goal and you're always learning as well. For me, I wasn’t well educated at school, but cooking you learn everyday, even the small minute things - it’s very exciting.”

If you’d like to enter the catering industry and follow in the footsteps of Marcus, click here to find out more about what courses are on offer at East Sussex College.