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Young chefs

Between June 2009 and May 2010, there were 43,335 certified learners in hospitality and catering working towards a City & Guilds qualification in the UK and Ireland. We take a look at some of today’s rising stars and deduce that, while the future looks bright for the industry, these upcoming players need to be nurtured if they are to be retained

David McHattieDavid McHattie, CEO of National Skills Academy Hospitality, tells EC why the hospitality industry ignores its young talent at its peril:

Why is it important to nurture new hospitality talent?

First, research clearly illustrates that most people leave organisations not because of money or hours but because of poor or non-existent direction and development opportunities. The brightest and the best, stripped of opportunity, will move on and go where their talents and potential are valued.

Second, the industry has long suffered from a reputation for being great as a stopgap but not as a serious career choice; although this has improved, we have a long way to go. As most employers still struggle to fill chef vacancies, it is important we support programmes and competitions that showcase and celebrate young talent, identify solutions for developing the skills that form long and successful careers, and of course, articulate the phenomenal success stories we see all around us.

The National Skills AcademyWhy run courses for chefs rather than let them learn in the kitchen?

We need both. Learning on the job in the workplace is good if that is what the aspiring chef wants, but we need to be as flexible as possible. Aspiring chefs need to be developed. Ensuring they are paired to employers who will support them will improve the chances of them staying and developing, thereby helping us grow our industry while illustrating what great career choices it offers.

What are the current challenges facing young chefs trying to make it in the industry?

The major challenge is making sense of everything. Which course? Which college? Which employer? Too much advice is still focused on traditional academic routes and mislabelled jobs that do not offer the range of opportunities available to chefs in hospitality.

Young chefs struggle to find the inspiration, clarity and information that support them in making the right choices, rather than just the convenient local choices. People only know what they know, and it’s the industry’s responsibility to help retain and develop young chefs with talent.

What are the challenges facing cuisine/catering in general?

The main challenge is the battle for talent. The sector is expected to grow, but even in a difficult economic climate with high unemployment, we still hear employers citing challenges of attracting or finding the right employees with the right skills – this
is not going to get easier.

Greater choice and more competition for talent means we have to celebrate the sector and the vast array of opportunities it affords more effectively, working collaboratively to market it using the appropriate tone of voice and communication channels.

We need people to choose to work in hospitality and catering, as well as developing and training people who already work within the industry. Keeping people saves a fortune on recruitment, induction and training, critical in times of increasing costs and challenging sales.

Competitions are rife

At any given time there are literally hundreds of young chefs up and down the country creating menus and honing dishes for a variety of competitions designed to inspire and reward the industry leaders of tomorrow. Here is just a handful of this year’s inspirational winners.

Chaîne International Young Chef of the Year 

Thomas Spencerly

Winner: Thomas Spencerly (20), Swinton Park, Masham, North Yorkshire

This was Thomas’s first time competing individually since leaving culinary college. From his unseen ‘market basket’ of ingredients, Thomas whipped up a three-course feast of pan-seared trout with lemon marinated asparagus and courgette, black pudding stuffed loin of pork with pea puree, fondant potatoes and a red wine jus, and a vanilla-infused pannacotta with lemon, lime and ginger jam.

“The Chaîne is keen to encourage and celebrate young professional chefs who will set future standards within the industry,” says Philip Evins, head of Chaîne des Rôtisseurs in the UK. “From a consumer point of view these competitions ensure the maintenance and growth of standards, which make the whole restaurant experience more enjoyable; and for the chefs, they can use them to enhance their careers and aspire to greater things.”

South West Chef of the Year

Ben Champkin

Winner: Ben Champkin (18), trainee chef, The Eastbury Hotel, Sherborne, Dorset

With a starter of seared line-caught bass, crab fritter, gooseberries, rainbow baby chard and red sorrel and a main of roasted Duroc pork loin, slow-cooked belly, crisp crackling, Burrow Hill cider syrup and summer vegetables, 18-year-old Ben not only won South West Young Professional of the Year, but also went on to win SW Chef of the Year by beating chefs aged 23 and above in the Professional Class.

“I have only been training for a short time but Brett Sutton, the head chef here at The Eastbury has helped me learn so much, not just about preparation but also about the importance of sourcing the very best local ingredients to create menus. I used Burrow Hill Cider from Martock, Somerset, Longman’s butter from North Cadbury, Somerset, carrots and chard from our veg growers Ted and Jane Harris from Longburton just outside Sherborne and purple sage and broad beans that we grew in our own walled garden at The Eastbury.”

Head chef Brett comments: “I had some great guidance at the start of my career and I am privileged to be in a position now where I can start to pass on some of what I have learned to these young chefs. My team has learned that recipes are brought to life by using the very best local ingredients, whether they are sourced from local farmers, grown in our walled garden, or foraged from the nearest hedgerow.”

Nestlé Toque d’Or

University College Birmingham

Winner: University College Birmingham

Open exclusively for students studying catering, the main challenge for this year’s entrants was to embrace and explore key principles in catering such as nutrition, health, wellness and sustainability. Subsequent to the initial paper entries came intensive regional heats that culminated in five colleges going forward to compete in the finals at the BBC Good Food Show Summer in Birmingham.

Beating off stiff competition from Petroc (North Devon), The College of West Anglia, Warrington Collegiate and York College, the Birmingham team of six prepared a meal of slow-cooked organic Shetland salmon, asparagus mayonnaise, quail egg & Avruga caviar followed by roast loin of Cornish lamb, green beans, feta & chickpea, radish, lovage jus with a dessert of caramel & chocolate parfait espresso ice cream.

“New recruits are the lifeblood of any industry and we believe that it’s vital we support and encourage the next generation of talent – and look to equip them with the right skills for their future careers,” says Neil Stephens, managing director, Nestlé Professional.

The quality and level of skill impressed head judge, James Tanner, who said: “The commitment and the sheer natural talent in this team was clear from the very beginning. All six students showed 100% passion and really rose to the challenge in conditions that can only be described as working in a real pressure cooker!”

Future Stars of Gastronomy

Jack Hone and James O'Keeffe

Winner: Jack Hone and James O’Keeffe, 2nd year students, Westminster Kingsway College, London

Organised by the Academy of Food and Wine (AFW) and sponsored by Discover the Origin, this competition is designed to highlight the importance of a good working relationship between kitchen and front-of-house staff and to encourage teamwork and innovation between the disciplines.

Entrants had to demonstrate culinary techniques and front-of-house service skills during the competition, which involved students from colleges and universities across the UK. Their dishes had to include Discover the Origin PDO ingredients Parma ham and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and had to be accompanied by a burgundy, Port or wine from the Douro Valley, also part of the Discover the Origin campaign.

The winning team received a prize of an AFW training bursary of £3000 together with a personal prize of a 10-day culinary research trip, courtesy of Discover the Origin, to gain an insight and understanding into the history and provenance behind the products of the PDO campaign.

About the Academy of Food & Wine

Founded in 1988, the AFW is a not-for-profit social enterprise organisation. It is the hospitality industry’s only professional training body dedicated to wine service and food service skills.

Discover the Origin’ is a three-year campaign financed by the EU, France, Italy and Portugal to promote Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) products: Parma ham, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, Burgundy wines, Port and Douro Valley wines.

The trade bodies behind the campaign are: The Burgundy Wine Board, the Port and Douro Wines Institute, the Parma Ham and Parmigiano-Reggiano Consortiums.

Essential Cuisine North West Young Chef

Tom LeeWinner: Tom Lee (24), sous chef, 60 Hope Street, Liverpool

Since graduating four years ago from the Liverpool Community College – where he won College Chef of the Year in 2005 – with his NVQ Level 1, 2 and Diploma in Professional Cookery, Tom has worked at Liverpool’s 60 Hope Street restaurant under the guidance of chef patron Paul Askew.

“The past four years have taught me to be a better chef and I’m ready to have my own restaurant,” says Tom. “I’d like to start my own empire – the Tom Lee Project – starting with the McDonalds building at Liverpool’s Albert Dock, which I’d turn into one of my restaurants.”

Tom’s winning menu (that had to use regional produce costing no more than £25) started with tortellini of Anglesey mussels and consommé with pancetta crisp and leeks, followed by a main course of pan roast rump of Barnston Longhorn beef with miniature cottage pie, carrot puree, field mushrooms, spinach and natural jus. To finish, he dished up a Claremont Farm strawberry cheesecake using fresh fruit picked just hours before the competition, with elderflower sorbet and Champagne jelly.

Nigel Crane, Dorchester-trained chef and managing director of stock maker Essential Cuisine, says the whole ethos of the competition is about nurturing young chefs. “Bringing on the region’s young talent is our key objective,” says Nigel.

North West Young Chef is open to everyone from college trainees and pub hotel chefs to restaurant apprentices and canteen cooks. You just need to be under 25 and work in the region. For more about the competition, call 0870 050 1133 or visit

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