Nestlé Professional Toque d’Or Apprentice winner
What do you currently do?
I’ve just started working with the team at the Wilderness. It’s a small team – around 12 of us – but it’s really cooperative. In some fine dining establishments, you see a divide between front and back of house, but we’re like a family, we stick together.
They’ve been so nice and welcoming – especially Alex Claridge. I’ve never met a chef who is so understanding, caring and humble. He really drives the team forwards. It’s awesome.
Why do you want to work in foodservice?
I wanted to study catering when I was at school, but because I was ‘academically-sound’, I was expected to study French or history. There was a big debate, because I didn’t want to study these subjects. Eventually, the school gave in and let me do GCSE catering.
I went for an open day at University College Birmingham [UCB] and loved the place. I originally signed up for professional cookery, but after doing the Young Waiters Academy, I fell in love with front of house and changed course.
I’ve been lucky, falling into the right place at the right time, especially getting the job at Simpsons when I was 16. Being confident, I like talking to people, getting to know their stories.
How did you come to enter the competition?
I’m friends with my UCB lecturer, Christine Alberto, and she told me there were openings at Toque d’Or. I hadn’t gone back to work, but was also not fully furloughed, so I had time to give it a go.
I’ve done competitions before and been really nervous, thinking, ‘I don’t come from a Michelin background’ and bottling it because I thought I wasn’t good enough. With Toque d’Or, I thought, I’m going to be myself. If they don’t like it, that’s fine.
What did you have to do when entering?
We had to do a sustainability exam and film a video on why we wanted to do Toque d’Or. It was good to get back into the swing of things after being stuck at home on lockdown.
Next, I had to make a jasmine tea craft drink that was sustainable, low sugar and non-alcoholic. I drove my partner mad, because I became obsessive, asking local farm shops for advice, making endless mind-maps, making and testing different flavoured syrups to go with the drink.
How did it feel when you found out you had won?
I nearly cried because it was a weight off my shoulders. I didn’t need to do it to prove a point – I knew I’d already found my place in hospitality and loved it. It was more of a case of ‘can I do it?’ The hardest part was not being able to tell anybody I’d won until it was officially announced!
How do you see your career developing? What is your biggest ambition?
I'd love to become a manager one day. I’m studying at university as I plan to go into teaching. And my secondary school teacher, Sarah Fellows, has asked me to go back to assist in her lessons in catering.
I remember how much of a battle it was for me to do catering. So, I’d like to make it better for the students there. And to be a role model, showing what you can achieve if you work hard and put in the hours.