The National Restaurant Awards 2024: Chef to Watch shortlist

By Restaurant

- Last updated on GMT

The National Restaurant Awards 2024: Chef to Watch shortlist

Related tags National restaurant awards Chefs Fine dining Ayo Adeyemi Abby Lee Larry Jayasekara Tom Barnes KayleighTurner Tom Waters Aika Levins

Meet the up-and-coming chefs battling it out to be crowned Chef to Watch at this year's awards.

Ayo Adeyemi – Akoko, London


When Ayo Adeyemi was asked to lead the kitchen at West African tasting menu restaurant Akoko in London's Fitzrovia back in September 2022, he knew it was the right step for his career. Previously he had cooked at Heston Blumenthal's The Fat Duck in Bray and Ryan Clift's Tippling Club in Singapore, and this was a chance to prove his mettle. And what an extraordinary job he has done, with Akoko recently bagging its first Michelin star. The little red book praised Adeyemi for his ‘refined, beautifully balanced dishes’ - a testament to his remarkable skillset and what he’s managed to accomplish.

Tom Barnes – Skof, Manchester


A previous Roux Scholarship winner and an undeniable top chef in the making, Tom Barnes has worked in Michelin-starred kitchens for the majority of his career. Much of that time has been spent behind the stoves at Simon Rogan’s Umbel Restaurant Group where, as executive chef, he helped oversee the promotion of the group’s Cartmel flagship L’Enclume from two to three stars. And there’s plenty more to come from the Cumbrian-born prodigy, with Barnes set to launch his first solo restaurant, Skof, in Manchester later this week. 

Larry Jayasekara – The Cocochine, London

Image: Justin De Souza

Sri Lankan-born chef Larry Jayasekara has had an incredible career to date.​​ His top flight cooking CV includes Raymond Blanc’s two Michelin star Oxfordshire restaurant Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and Alain Roux's three Michelin-starred The Waterside Inn in Bray. He is perhaps best known in the industry for his four-year stint as head chef of Gordon Ramsay’s Michelin-starred Pétrus in London’s Knightsbridge, during which time he won the National Chef of the Year cooking competition. Now he’s branched out on his own with his debut solo restaurant project The Cocochine, a seriously high-end Mayfair restaurant that’s as impressive as it is distinctive.

Abby Lee – Mambow, London

Image: Caitlin Isola

Abby Lee might argue that the Covid pandemic is one of the best things to happen to her business. In early 2020 she launched Mambow in London’s Spitalfields. The concept was originally positioned as a more conventional breakfast and lunch-focused bowl food restaurant but after lockdown forced Mambow to close Lee went back to the drawing board and eventually relaunched the brand as ‘a more self-consciously Malaysian concept’ that drew from her culinary heritage. Since then, Lee has gone from strength to strength, establishing a new permanent base for herself in east London that was recently named the best restaurant in London by Time Out ​magazine.

Aika Levins – Studio Paskin, London

Image: Georgia Rudd

Aika Levins has basically spent her entire career in hospitality. Born and raised in Chiba, Japan, she started out at 16 working front of house at a restaurant in Matsuyama, before deciding that she wanted to move into the kitchen. Having relocated to the UK, Levins joined Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant in London, where she rose through the ranks before going on to work for the likes of Morito Hackney Road and Cora Pearl. Eventually her career brought her to the attention of Zoë and Layo Paskin, who initially hired her as sous chef at their Neal's Yard restaurant The Barbary Next Door. From there she moved to The Barbary’s main restaurant, where she led the kitchen as head chef before being promoted to her current role as group development chef for Studio Paskin, overseeing the menus at The Palomar, The Barbary, and The Barbary Next Door.

Kayleigh Turner – The Glenturret Lalique, Crieff


Kayleigh Turner has achieved so much, so quickly. Her career in hospitality started when she was just 16, working as a crew member for fast food giant McDonald’s in Airdrie, Scotland, while also studying professional cookery HND at New College Lanarkshire. It was while there that she scooped bronze at the International Salon Culinaire competition in London, which propelled her into a new job as demi pastry chef de partie at The Balmoral hotel in Edinburgh. Little more than two years later, she was promoted to lead pastry chef at Number One, The Balmoral’s flagship restaurant. Today, Turner is head pastry chef at the The Glenturret Lalique, which recently celebrated a promotion from one to two Michelin stars. And the accolades just keep coming, with Turner recently being named Pastry Chef of the Year at the Scottish Food & Drink Awards.

Ash Valenzuela-Heeger – Riverine Rabbit, Birmingham


Originally hailing from South Africa, Ash Valenzuela-Heeger’s CV speaks for itself. She previously cooked at the highly-rated Cape Town restaurant The Test Kitchen before relocating to the UK where she has worked behind the stoves at the likes of The Ledbury and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in London, and Brad Carter’s Carters of Moseley in Birmingham. Now working with her wife Erin, she has opened her first permanent restaurant in Birmingham. Called Riverine Rabbit, the concept was originally created by Valenzuela-Heeger and her sister Mandy in Cape Town and offers an accessible-yet-ambitious menu of small plates, many of which take culinary cues from South Africa. It’s already capturing people’s attention, with Riverine Rabbit being added to the Michelin Guide in April just three months on from its launch. 

Tom Waters – Gorse, Cardiff


Tom Waters has honed his skills as a chef at some of the most prestigious restaurants in the UK. He landed his first role under acclaimed Welsh chef Bryn Williams at Odette’s, before moving on to the two Michelin-starred The Square in London where he worked under Phil Howard. From there he became sous chef at Michelin-starred Bonhams in Mayfair before moving to be part of the leadership team at Heston Blumenthal’s flagship restaurant The Fat Duck. Now, he’s striking out on his own with Gorse, a concept he originally established as a ‘travelling restaurant’ in Cardiff before laying down permanent roots in the city. Serving flavour-centric food served in an unpretentious and relaxed environment, the restaurant is an encapsulation of modern Welsh cooking that singles Waters out as a talent to watch.

The Chef to Watch award is sponsored by Belazu​. The winner will be announced at the National Restaurant Awards, being held at Magazine London on 10 June.

Related topics Chef

Related news

Follow us

Hospitality Guides

View more