What difference do the Graduate Awards make to a chef’s career?

01/04/2019 - 08:31
There’s only one month left for chefs to enter the Craft Guild of Chefs Graduate Awards. The award is aimed at chefs aged 23 and under and gives them the opportunity to develop the skills they have learnt in college, now they are busy in a working environment.

Last year three young chefs achieved the Kitchen Award and six made the grade in the pastry award. We caught up with the Highest Achiever in the final exam, Ben Cowley to learn more about the impact these awards have had on his career.

How did you hear about the Graduate Awards?

I read about the Graduate Awards online and my bosses at the time from Simpsons pushed me into entering. Luke Tipping and Leo Kattou had both worked with chefs who had achieved the award before and felt the experience would really help me to grow as a chef.  

Why did you want to enter?

I really wanted the chance to see what everyone else my age was doing and to learn more and develop my skills further from the Graduate Awards mentor trip. The Graduate Award was the first opportunity for me to properly test myself and see what I have learnt since leaving college. It gives you a good benchmark of how well you are doing as a chef.

What was the highlight for you during the experience?

The highlight for me was getting feedback from the chefs on the awards night. Before the results were announced, there was a drinks reception where all the Graduates came together and talked to the examiners. You were also given feedback sheets at the end of the experience which really helped us to know the areas we could improve on. It was also nice to meet new chefs, who are the same age and on the same page. With us all working around the UK, I may not have met them otherwise.  

Tell us about the biggest challenge

The biggest challenge for me was the mystery basket element of the final exam. It was important that we understood the boundaries and didn’t push it as time was tight and we were working in a kitchen we weren’t as familiar with. It’s important to just know what you do well and focus on staying within your skillset and producing delicious food.  

How did you find the mentor experience?

The mentor experience gave me good insight into certain aspects of the industry, such as butchery and the fishmongers. You could talk to suppliers and hear more about their side of the industry. It was fantastic to meet the farmers too. At the end of the first day, it was also nice to unwind and just chat with like-minded people at an amazing venue.

You were announced as the Highest Achiever in 2018, how did that feel?

I was grateful for the opportunity and what this has given me since. It was nice to feel like the hard work had paid off and to be recognised for what you do.

Tell us what’s happened since the Graduate Awards

At the time of the awards, I was junior sous chef at Simpsons Restaurant, and I am now working as a sous chef at The Wilderness which is going really well. The skills you develop during the whole Graduate Awards experience really help you in your working day and also give you confidence to try something new.

You will now be going to the Young National Chef of the Year final as the Highest Achiever, how does that feel?

It’s quite nerve-wracking but an exciting challenge and one I am already looking forward to doing. In a few months I’ll get the brief and then I will be working hard to do my best at the final at The Restaurant Show.

How did your workplace help you during the experience?

The team at Simpsons arranged for me to go for a day at Aubrey Allen so that I could learn as much as possible for the butchery task. They also made sure I had plenty of time to practise in preparation for the final. This was something that really helped me achieve the pass as putting the work into the exam makes a big difference.  

Get involved this year

Enter the Graduate Awards today. The form only takes a few minutes to complete but it can open many doors. Not only will you get to cook for some of the best chefs in the UK but if you are successful you will have the opportunity to be part of Young National Chef of the Year the following year. 

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