Winter 2008 - Graduating in style

12/04/2013 11:04
This year's examinations for the Graduate Awards were a tough exercise for 12 young finalists striving to be the highest achievers.

Selin Kiazim was acclaimed as the top achiever at the 2008 Graduate Awards presentation lunch at the Royal Garden Hotel in September.

Kiazim, who initially took the examinations as a trainee chef at Westminster Kingsway College and is now working with renowned New Zealand chef Peter Gordon at Providores in London, gained the highest grade, while fellow chefs James Baker from British Airways Waterside and Adam Harrison from Oulton Hall in Leeds were the only other chefs who successfully passed the exam.

Now in its sixth year, the Craft Guild of Chefs' culinary examinations for working chefs under the age of 23 includes a butchery and fishmongery skills test as well as a mystery basket in the final at Westminster Kingsway College. This included the finalists having to prepare French trimmed racks of lamb, lemon sole fillets with a salmon farce and poached sole fillets Flaubert, and a rich chocolate delice.

Chairman of judges and senior development chef with McCormicks, Steve Love, says this year's event was a real test for the candidates, and it was good to see young cooks coming back year after year to try and gain the coveted status of being a Craft Guild graduate. “We saw some great skills and the candidates dug deep to complete all the tasks and get their dishes out on time.

“To be judged by your peers can be quite daunting and all these young chefs should be proud of themselves.” He explained that the aim of the award was to give young chefs the opportunity to continue their vocational training from whatever part of the industry they worked in. It helped to promote culinary arts and set culinary standards, as well as bring on young rising stars in the industry.

The inspiration behind the awards was Craft Guild vice president Steve Munkley, who along with Love thanked their colleagues on the organising committee – Simon Stocker, Robert Perry, Darren Thompson and Mark Hill – as well as all the high calibre judges and sponsors.

“We also had two great venues this year – Thames Valley University and Westminster Kingsway College,” says Love. “So our thanks too go to David Foskett and Gary Hunter.” Kiazim's prize for being the highest achiever includes a three day trip to Paris, courtesy of Exclusive Ranges, that will take in a visit to the famous Rorgue factory and dinner at a three Michelin star restaurant of her choice, plus culinary tours to Luxembourg with Villeroy & Boch and Scotland with James Knight of Mayfair.

Afterwards Kiazim said it was the hardest competition she had ever done – “just as hard as working for my diploma”. Her mentor was Westminster Kingsway College chef lecturer Vince Cottam who has now guided three chefs to the top achiever award – Mark Freudenland, Sophie Wright and now Kiazim. Recognising the importance of mentorship and support, the 2008 Employers Award for Excellence in Training was presented to former Graduate Award achiever Anton Scoones of Oulton Hall, who mentored Adam Harrison.

Last year's winner Steve Wilson from the House of Commons got the opportunity to give the audience a flavour of the experiences he had from his prize trips. He found the trip to Villeroy & Boch's factory in Luxembourg really interesting because he says he had no idea what was involved in making plates and that it was something chefs took for granted. He also learnt much about the fish that lands on his kitchen's chopping boards from his trip to Scotland with James Knight of Mayfair.

Guild chairman Nick Vadis says he believes the trips the highest achiever is fortunate to win are great for inspiring young chefs to find out about the products they work with, and thanked the sponsors for their support. He also gave the santé du chef to the Royal Garden Hotel's team that produced a superb lunch consisting of warm black leg of chicken and chorizo terrine with herbed sherry and lentil vinaigrette; the James Knight seafood medley with wilted red chard, warm mixed potato salad and shellfish sauce; and chocolate florentine slice with mandarin ice cream and citrus chutney.

Take three graduates

Anton Scoones – Oulton Hall, Leeds

Anton Scoones, who mentored Oulton Hall's commis chef Adam Harrison this year, says the format had changed since the time he took the examination. He thought it had stepped up a gear – the dessert in particular being a bit harder to accomplish.

Scoones, who graduated in 2006, believes the Graduate Awards make a massive difference to careers. “It benchmarks yourself and you gain a lot of confidence from them,” he says. “Mentoring was hard work but a pleasure at the same time. It was really good to learn and to teach.

“The awards give you a chance to focus. It's an examination but it's a competition as well because you are competing with yourself.”

He thought the trips were amazing and says his current workplace encourages trips because they inspire ideas. Out of the restaurants that he visited, his favourite was Simpsons in Birmingham.

To give the awards even more impetus he feels someone additional, who was dedicated and passionate about training and development, might help to drive it even further.

For the past three years Scoones has been at Oulton Hall and before that with Paul Heathcote where, he says, he was “moulded into a chef”. Heathcote's style was more modern British cookery – British with a twist – and every one of his chefs “came through”, he says.

And the future? At Oulton Hall a new restaurant focusing on good quality produce and service such as carving meat at the table and lots of interaction will determine what the future holds, he says, but eventually he would like to be an executive chef at a top hotel “with all the stars”.

Richard Edwards – Mallory Court Hotel, Leamington Spa

Now the 2005 Graduate Awards winner Richard Edwards isn't based in London any more, he says he doesn't do competitions.

But he thinks the Graduate Awards is a competition and something quite different for young people. “For my age group it is quite unique. You don't know what you are cooking and you have to prepare classic dishes. I would recommend people to go for it. It will build your confidence.”

Edwards, who started at Huddersfield Technical College and a small hotel in Bradford, did his apprenticeship in the Tenth Restaurant at the Royal Garden Hotel in London and Westminster Kingsway College.

He has been at the country house hotel Mallory Court in Leamington Spa for just over a year but says that if he came back to London he would like be in a restaurant and get a star for himself.

Sophie Wright – consultant chef

Sophie Wright is another Graduate Award achiever of 2006. But at 22 she has already achieved a stack of goals and enjoys working for herself.

From being a Westminster Kingsway College student, she went on to work at Beach Blanket Babylon in Notting Hill, and planned to stay working in restaurants.

But then her career took off in television and in writing.

She was asked if she would like to write a book and the result was ‘Easy Peasy', a book for people aged 18+ and leaving home for the first time, which came out in October. “Simple, homely, girlie food,” she explains. “Brunch and posh lunchboxes; and there's another book in the wings.”

She has also joined forces with Churchill China and for the first time is bringing out a range of branded equipment for the home based around the ‘bare essentials' chapter in her book. She also does consultancy work for Electrolux.

Television work has included Daily Cooks and Food Poker, and there are talks of her taking part in a chef programme in the Pacific Ocean, where she says “she might have to catch things” and then there's her private catering business that she does from home.

For Wright the Graduate Awards exam is a great competition. “Competitions of that calibre put you in the right stride. It isn't about acclaim; it's about preparing yourself. It makes you more aware and the goal is to win. Vince Cottam was my mentor and he pushed me hard.

“The amount of publicity was phenomenal. It stood me in good stead for the book, the TV work, etc – a young female doing well within the industry.”

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