Stephanie Beresforde, winner of the 2017 Gold Service Scholarship and assistant restaurant director of Jean-Georges at the Connaught, talks to Katherine Price about her experiences as this year's scholar, getting more young people into the industry and inspiring young women
And 2018 is not looking any quieter: as part of her scholarship prize, the 26-year-old is doing work placements at the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok, Thailand, and at the three-Michelin-starred Waterside Inn in Bray, Berkshire; she has been offered the opportunity to undertake the Wine & Spirit Education Trust Level 3 training; and, should the opportunity arise, â¨a state banquet may also be on the cards.
From Cornwall to the Connaught
Like many before her, hospitality was something Beresforde fell into. Without a clear career plan, she was encouraged to study for a BA in English language and literature at the University of Birmingham and had considered being a teacher. "I did one week in a â¨primary school - never again!" she laughs.
After graduating, her family moved from Yorkshire to Cornwall, where she got a job in a local Italian restaurant and loved it so much that she thought she'd try a career in hospitality. "People spoke about Rick Stein's Seafood â¨Restaurant as an amazing place to work, so â¨I applied, got the job, and that's when it all changed," she says. "Everything I learned about hospitality, it all started there."
She then moved to London and got a job as a chef de rang at Scott's restaurant in Mayfair, which was when she started taking the business seriously as a career. "Since then it's just catapulted - more than I ever expected. It's something I fell into completely by accident, but it has ended up being such a perfect fit."
One to watch
After a year, she returned to Cornwall to accept an assistant manager position at the Seafood Restaurant in Padstow and, having seen her partner progress to the final of the Gold â¨Service Scholarship in 2015, she entered â¨herself in the 2016 competition. She made it to the final and was named 'one to watch', which spurred her to return in 2017.
"I loved it," she says. "If I could, I'd do it every year. People might say it's a lot of pressure to come back the second year to try again, but it wasn't a choice for me. I think I would have carried on doing it until I won!"
And she wasn't the first - three previous winners (James Fleming, Daniele Quattromini and Jennifer Santner) have won on their second attempt. "The first time you take part, it's a little bit intimidating because you've got all these judges with amazing job titles and work â¨histories. You don't know what to expect and, depending on where you work, you may not regularly do the kinds of things that are expected from you at the competition.
"When I went back for the second year, â¨I knew everybody and felt more at ease. â¨The pressure was obviously still there, and â¨I still felt very nervous on the day of the final, but I knew what to expect. And all the mistakes that I made in the first year - I made sure not to make them again."
This year is the first, barring the very first competition in 2013, where none of the finalists have taken part in a previous final.
Second time's the charm
"When they read my name out - it feels like such a blur now - it was the most amazing feeling," she says. The benefits of winning â¨the scholarship, she enthuses, have been numerous, from the people she has met and the things she has learned to the places she has visited and the self-belief it has instilled.
She remains in touch with her fellow finalists on Facebook. None of her friends work in the sector, and she says the scholarship has been great for developing a network of people her age in the industry. Watching their careers progress and seeing what they had achieved at the same age has inspired her.
"If I hadn't won the scholarship, I wouldn't have even applied for somewhere like this [Jean-Georges]," she says. "And I'm not sure â¨I would have got the job without having won, with everything that it's taught me."
And when she was unsure about whether fine dining was for her, scholarship trustee John Davey was on hand for advice. "We had coffee in Bibendum and he showed me around the restaurant, told me I could do a trial shift there if I wanted, to see how I liked fine dining, and gave me names and recommendations."
By June, she had joined Jean-Georges at the Connaught as assistant restaurant manager ahead of the opening two months later. â¨In December she was promoted to assistant restaurant director.
Fit for the future
Supporting the next generation of young â¨hospitality leaders, both within the Gold â¨Service Scholarship and outside it, is something Beresforde takes very seriously. As well as encouraging her junior colleagues to enter the competition, she has taken it upon herself to set up a training group for them to practise their skills. "I hope as scholars and competitors, we can all support the future generations of the competition," she says.
People in the UK looking down on hospitality as a career is something of a bee in her â¨bonnet. She laments that when working in Cornwall, people would ask what she was going to do after the summer and what her 'proper job' was going to be. And among her colleagues, only two are English. "We love working in a restaurant where people are from â¨different cultures and nationalities," she says. "It's amazing and you can meet so many people and learn from everybody. But if those people were to stop coming and working here, then what would happen to our industry?"
As well as the Gold Service Scholarship, she quotes schemes such as Adopt a School as â¨a way of changing people's perceptions. "You need to get the schools on board. It starts with parents and young kids, which Adopt a School is working really hard towards, and then in schools it has to be seen as an option.
"Hospitality school was never presented as an option to me. There's a lot that we can do and there's a lot that I'd really like to be involved with."
She also wants to encourage more women to enter the competition and points out that the number of women in the final has increased every year - for the past two years it has beenâ¨a 50-50 split. "It's a very male-dominated â¨industry; I can show other young women that they can do it too," she says.
A father from a family she knows in Cornwall messaged her recently, seeking her advice and saying his daughter had been inspired by her and wants a career in hospitality. "It's amazing to think that I've been able to help a young girl like that in some sort of small way and to lead her towards something she probably wouldn't have been pushed towards otherwise," she says.
So what's next? Eventually she'd like to move back to Cornwall and open a restaurant with her partner, who works at Sexy Fish in Mayfair, and maybe start a catering company with a training school aspect - although before then she'd â¨also like to experience working at one of the Jean-Georges restaurants in New York. She's also learning Czech in her spare time.
And, for the record, nobody asks her what her 'proper job' is going to be any more.
Stephanie Beresforde's CV
2017-present Assistant restaurant director, â¨Jean-Georges at the Connaught, London
2016-17 Assistant restaurant manager, the Rick Stein Group, London and Cornwall
2015-16 Chef de rang, â¨Scott's, London
2014 Front of house, â¨the Seafood Restaurant, Padstow, Cornwall
2013-14 Chalet manager, Alpine Action, Meribel, France
2009-12 BA English language and literature, University â¨of Birmingham
Gold Service Scholarship 2018 finalists
The Gold Service Scholarship winner will be announced at a ceremony at Claridge's, London, on 6 February. The finalists are:
- Laudy Gibba-Smith, head waitress at L'Enclume, Cumbria
- Sebastian Koewius, assistant room service manager at the Corinthia Hotel London
- Christian KÁ¶hle, assistant restaurant manager at Fera at Claridge's, London
- Sarah May Coward, senior footman â¨of the Glass Pantry at the Royal Household, London
- Beatriz Pinto Da Silva, butler at the â¨Savoy London
- Charlotte Poynton, sommelier and assistant restaurant manager at â¨the Three Chimneys, Isle of Skye
- Eugenio Simonelli, junior maÁ®tre d'hotel â¨at Le Gavroche, London
- Michael Staub, floor manager at â¨the Rosewood London
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