Introducing Luke Emmess, Fuller’s Chef of the Year for 2019
Luke Emmess, Head Chef at The Still & West in Portsmouth, was crowned Fuller’s Chef of the Year for 2019 after winning the final cook-off held at Havant & South Downs College in Portsmouth on 10 July.
For the competition eight finalist chefs from Fuller’s pubs across the UK were given set ingredients to create a three-course meal, judged by industry leading individuals including Michelin Star Chefs.
We asked Luke about his journey to becoming Fuller’s Chef of the Year for 2019, and what it’s like to hold the title of Fuller’s top chef.
Where it all began
Luke’s cooking career began at secondary school. Not knowing what he wanted to do, he studied catering in year 10 and knew it was the right choice for him.
He went on to complete his Chef Apprenticeship at Havant & South Downs College in Waterlooville, before joining Fuller’s in 2015 as a Sous Chef at The Still & West in Portsmouth – where he was promoted to Head Chef after a few months.
“The Head Chef left a few months after I started, so I was acting Head Chef while they were hiring a new one. I was thrown in the deep end, but I managed to swim, and they offered me the job.”
Winning formula: Luke Emmess preparing his winning meal. Picture: Habibur Rahman, The News, Portsmouth.
Competing for Chef of the Year
Fuller’s Chef of the Year is an annual cooking competition that challenges chefs from Fuller’s pubs to vie for the prestigious title, winning a trip to Hong Kong to work along Simon Rogan as the prize.
Luke’s passion for experimenting in the kitchen is what led him to compete in the competition, he explained.
“I entered the competition because it provides the opportunity to do something different from the day-to-day. There’s a lot and passion and pride involved. I like to have a play and experiment making my own dishes, and I like the feeling you get when someone really enjoys your dish. I just really enjoy cooking.”
Having won Fuller’s Junior Chef of the Year in 2016, Luke became the only person to have won both the Junior and the Senior Chef of the Year titles.
“I was 23 when I won the junior title and it was the first time I had entered. Because I won it the next year I was put in the older category, where I made it into the final but didn’t win. It’s hard not winning, but it was a driver for me and I really wanted to hold that title.”
Hungry for the win, Luke entered the competition every year that followed until he claimed the title he longed for.
“The junior title wasn’t enough for me, I wanted to achieve the senior title too, and I’m very happy that I’ve managed to do that. Everyone has given me loads of support in the preparation, and I was fully ready for it this year.”
For Luke, the win was made even sweeter by the venue.
“South Downs is my old college, so it was really nostalgic going back there for the competition. It has been seven years since I finished college and they even had a lot of the same staff – they remembered me and were all chuffed when I won.”
What’s next for Fuller’s Chef of the Year?
“I want to stay with Fuller’s and continue to progress within the business. Next year, I might mentor one of my own team to enter Chef of the Year,” Luke said.
And, he is off to Hong Kong with the rest of the winners as his prize.
“I’m looking forward to going to Hong Kong and working with Simon Rogan. Going to Dubai as a prize for winning Junior Chef of the Year was an amazing experience so I know this will be just as good, if not better.”
Although Luke won’t be entering Fuller’s Chef of the Year next year, he has offered his advice for those contemplating entering the competition:
“Just go for it! Even if you are in debate about whether you should enter or not, do it for the experience. Don’t let not winning dishearten you, because you will get there eventually if you don’t give up. I’m proof of that – I tried for three years before I got the win, and the feeling of disappointment from not winning is what drives you.”
To try meals prepared by Fuller's Chef of the Year for yourself, visit The Still & West in Portsmouth.
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