One month on from winning the National Chef of the Year, Alex Angelogiannis, is still “nervous” in the kitchen.
36-year-old Alex, who moved to the UK to follow a passion for cooking, said winning the prestigious award won’t change the pressure he feels on the job.
The competition, which began in 1972, covers the whole UK and has previous winners such as Gordon Ramsay OBE.
Senior sous chef Alex remains “nervous” despite winning the first award he has ever gone up for.
“A lot of people doubt themselves on a daily basis,” he says.
“It doesn’t matter if you’ve won National Chef of the Year, you question everything that you do.
“That’s how you improve.”
Winning the award hasn’t taken the pressure off for Alex, but that’s how he likes it.
Alex continues: “I think everyone has nerves before a busy Saturday night.
“Cooking when you have a Michelin Guide in or some famous food critic, or even another chef, you’re always nervous.
“I don’t think that changes. That never leaves.
“I think the only way to become better is to constantly question what you’re doing.
“Once you start getting comfortable or too confident, I think that is when you maybe start getting a bit sloppy. So you might not push yourself as hard as you can.”
What is it like being a sous chef at a Michelin Star restaurant in Perthshire?
Alex, who studied at Le Monde Culinary Institute in Athens, grew up with many cooks in the family.
“I grew up in a typical Greek family back home,” he says, “everyone cooked.
“Where we lived, my aunt was in one flat, my grandmother was in another flat across the hall.
“They all cooked and competed with one another. There was always this sense of competition and food brought everyone together.”
Working at a Michelin Star venue means high pressure shifts for Alex, but he enjoys every minute of it.
“There is pressure,” he says, “but the benefit of working in a small restaurant like ours, means less covers. We can focus on the fun part – the cooking.
“Sure, there are stresses and we need to perform to make sure all the guests have a great experience.
“But what would be more stressful is running around because you have 150 covers.
“These smaller restaurants give you the chance to have a nicer work environment which is hyper-focused on the cooking.”
National chef of the year winner – ‘You have to win before you walk into the ring’
The competition itself led to some sleepless nights for Alex.
To win, Alex had to take part in a cook-off at the University of West London, preparing dishes for judges including Kenny Atkinson, Anna Haugh and Tom Shepherd.
“The pressure of the competition reminded me of being in sports at school,” Alex explains.
“Being in the final and getting prepared for that, it’s nothing like what you do in your day to day.
“I was up at 4am from nerves that morning.
“Then I was awake all that time from 4am to 11am when I’d be starting to cook. I really had to make myself stay focused and keep my mindset that I would go in there and win.
“That’s like when boxers go into a ring. You have to win before you walk into the ring, it’s about mentality.
“It’s not just your ability to cook. Everyone in that room had talent and skill.”
Both first and second place positions went to Scottish chefs, with Matthew Smith, head chef from Inver Restaurant in Argyll & Bute taking the runner-up spot.
Alex adds: “I am very happy that I did the competition and I’m very proud that I was able to go in and with not much experience in competitions, execute my plan and win.
“At the same time, I’m very aware that anyone who was in there that day could have won.”