Chef and World Association of Chefs Societies judge Chris Sandford launched the Culinary Ability Awards, a professional standard contest for disabled chefs, in 2004. Ten years on, Sandford talks to Hannah Thompson about how he and his business partner Mona Leone are raising £250,000 to create a chef qualification as well as a training restaurant
Why did you set up the awards? What were you hoping to achieve?
Do you think there's a perception that people with disabilities can't work in kitchens?
Absolutely. And we're here to show they can. There's nothing to say that the way people with disabilities look at the world is wrong. For example, some people with autism might have great depth of knowledge in produce, or someone with Down's Syndrome might have trouble talking, but
they can still have passion for cooking or enjoy work such as washing plates.
Talk me through how the Culinary Ability Awards work.
It's the same principle as competitions at industry shows, but at these awards each competitor has a mentor with them - a friendly face who can help if needed. The awards are now recognised with the World Association of Chefs Societies and have taken place at Ifex Belfast, Catex Dublin,
ScotHot and Hotelympia.
You're also opening a restaurant.
It will be a training restaurant using plancha-style cooking with an open kitchen. It will act as a base through which to develop a chef qualification and where chefs can lead workshops or act as mentors. We'd like the first set of funds [£250,000] by September.
Why have you created your own qualification?
It's about finding which ability we can nurture. Sometimes there's only so much a college can do, so a special vocational qualification is the way to go. It will also be recognised Europe-wide, as we want our chefs to do international stages. For example, Anton Mosimann offered last year's award champion, Michael Auld, a week-long stage - with his mentor - at Mosimann's restaurant in France.
It was fantastic. Mosimann and his head chef really got what we were trying to achieve.
Why ask other chefs and businesses to get involved?
We have a tremendous amount of talented individuals in the industry who can train others. And if our trainees visit other restaurants, businesses get the benefit of opening up their staff's minds to disabled people's abilities, and the trainees would learn to adapt to different kitchens.
How can someone apply to the awards?
All you need is a love for food. We work with charities such as Barnado's and they often already have their own cooking competitions, so they can point out who might be a good competitor. We can then provide a mentor from a group of my trusted colleagues. It's about offering people inspiration; about giving people a chance.
Find out more about the project and how you can help at www.culinaryabilityawards.com