Lee Bye, head chef at the award-winning Tuddenham Mill in Suffolk, has won the 2017 Acorn Scholarship.
Bye, who is the 15th Acorn Scholar, impressed the judging panel with his determination to grow as a head chef and manager at the boutique Newmarket hotel.
Bye presented to a judging panel that included Sean Wheeler, director of people development, Principal Hotel Company; Laura Wigley, global director of learning and talent, Dorchester Collection; Moira Laird, human resources director, Valor Hospitality Partners and Ruston Toms, founding trustee of the PM Trust and director of Blue Apple Contract Catering.
The 30-year-old chef, who won an Acorn Award earlier this year, unveiled a plan to overcome the ‘stutter’ at the beginning of a chef’s career, which results in so many young chefs leaving the industry. He said: “So many chefs fall by the wayside in the early stages of their careers. When I first went to college, there were 27 chefs on my course – by year three there was only three of us.”
Bye intends to develop a Young Chef of the Year Golden Ticket event, based on one launched already in his home county. His ‘Reach for the Stars’ campaign will require the industry to invest time and money in grass-roots training to encourage a better work-life balance, while a ‘Care’ campaign will seek out diamonds in the rough and inspire young chefs during their sensitive years.
He also plans to create a voluntary code of conduct for kitchens and spoke of getting chefs to “open their hearts”, to make kitchens an appealing place to work in and a place for parents to want to send their children to work. He said he wanted to make it acceptable for young chefs to seek flexibility in their working hours, such as asking for a Saturday night off.
Jo Harley, scholarship judge and managing director of PurpleCubed, said: “Lee is going to be an incredible scholar, he has so much potential and a really important message that we can help him share.” Judge Ruston Toms commented that the chefs crisis was not going away until chefs like Bye sought to take the industry in another direction.
Bye receives a prize valued at more than £7,000, including a £2,000 bursary for professional development, coaching sessions with Purple Cubed, and a designated mentor from the Acorn Scholarship team to guide him through the year as a scholar.
Andrew Muir, guest experience manager at Hotel 41, London, was named runner-up in the competition. Previous winners include Charlotte Horler of Red Carnation Hotels, Daniel McLoughlin, opening project manager at Shoda Cafe & Restaurant, Co. Kildare, Simon Houston of Bartlett Mitchell, and John Price, owner of the Ginger Pub Company and the first Acorn Scholar. The Acorn Scholarship is a self-nominated award and is open to individuals who are UK residents and able to work in the UK without restriction.Sponsors include the Dorchester Collection, Principal Hotels, Valor Hospitality Partners and the PM Trust with patrons PurpleCubed , the Springboard Charity and Villeroy & Boch.
Other judges included Hannah Horler, managing director of Cartwheel Recruitment, 2016 Acorn Scholarship winner Charlotte Horler, Jo Harley, managing director of PurpleCubed, Amanda Afiya, editor of The Caterer, and Lisa Jenkins, products and suppliers editor of The Caterer.
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