Kuba Winkowski, head chef at The Feathered Nest, on the pressures of cooking and turning his life around

By Katherine MacAlister

Kuba Winkowski, head chef at The Feathered Nest, on the pressures of cooking and turning his life around

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Preparing for the 2017 National Chef of the Year Competition, on top of the hours I already spent in the kitchen at the Feathered Nest, left me feeling totally burned out.

I have worked extremely hard for the past 15 years and over the past six, my focus has been on making The Feathered Nest what it is today – a renowned 3 AA Rosette restaurant.

When you enter the catering industry nothing really prepares you for the long hours, coupled with the sheer hard work needed if you are ambitious.

Following the competition in October 2017, I was feeling totally burned out and realised I needed to make radical changes in my life if I was to continue building my career and enjoying my life.

Although I have a happy family life and try to spend time with my wife and young son, I had got to the point that I wasn’t enjoying my work as much. I struggled to find inspiration and was losing enthusiasm.

I needed to do something drastic.

It is very easy when you work in this industry not to take steps to lead a healthy life: finding time to exercise and eat a healthy diet is easy to overlook but it is crucially important to one’s long-term well-being.

If I was to reach my 40th birthday without serious physical and mental health issues, I needed to change.

They say “Don’t trust a skinny chef” but I hope that having had a second chance at being a finalist in the National Chef of the Year competition with the final being held on October 2 in London, I may have the opportunity to prove that a skinny chef can cook!

Over the past 12 months, I have lost more than 4.5 stone and more importantly have changed my life completely.

I started an exercise regime prompted by a physical test a personal trainer put me through.

The results were shocking, so I considered my options.

My exercise regime includes finding time in the afternoon to go for a two-mile brisk walk around the village. This became interspersed with jogging and now I can run more than six miles.

Getting up earlier, I can do pilates with my wife, swim and cycle to work two or three times a week.

I have also reduced what I eat. It is very easy when you are a chef to forget how many calories one eats each day when tasting the various dishes we prepare.

When you finish your shift, you are unlikely to eat a healthy meal.

Although I was eating good quality food, I was not eating a balanced diet.

Not only have I lost a lot of weight, I no longer suffer with a back problem.

My attitude to life has changed too.

My increased energy levels have restored my enthusiasm and motivation and I have encouraged my young team to take time to join me on long walks around the Cotswolds and take part in afternoon gym sessions, as well as considering the long-term health benefits of taking a different life-style option.

Since January, the management at the Feathered Nest decided to operate only four days a week so we can give our team three days away from work, encouraging a healthy work-life balance.

I know that there are many other chefs working in this industry who feel as I did twelve months ago, but perhaps do not understand how to take the first steps to make the transition.

I am very happy to talk to them and can easily be contacted via The Feathered Nest .

Preparing for this year’s National Chef of the Year competition, whilst still very challenging, has been far more rewarding. The competition is open to all chefs over the age of 24 from across all sectors of the industry.

The first stage back in February was to devise a creative lunch menu for two guests which had to be cooked within two hours.

It had to have a plant based vegetarian dish using grains or pulses for the starter; a main course of lamb with two cuts and two cooking methods suitable for the summer season and a dessert of a modern approach to a classic floating island including a seasonal fruit element.

A panel of leading expert judges then selected 40 chefs to take part in the regional semi-final when we had to cook our dishes.

Competition was fierce, and I was delighted to be selected as one of the chefs who will be cooking the final.

I am delighted to have reached the final for a second year and hope that with my different mental attitude and vastly improved physical stamina, I will do well this year.

I am up against some fantastic chefs, so I know it will be a tough challenge. Whatever happens in the 2018 had I not seen the light and realised how close I was to a totally physical breakdown it wouldn’t have happened.

Now 12 months on I know a skinny chef is a happy, and hopefully, winning chef.