The finalists of the Craft Guild of Chefs’ Graduate Awards are given some valuable tips on preparing for their last tests on a two-day mentoring experience in Somerset
The finalists in the Craft Guild of Chefs’ Graduate Awards have been given the chance to experience something a little bit different this year: a trip to Somerset to experience how food is produced, as well as a series of masterclasses to help them in their final tests.
The two-day mentoring experience begins with an early coach trip from London to Durslade Farm in Somerset. The finalists are taken on a farm tour where they forage, visit the vineyard and learn more about the animals, including the wagyu beef produced on the farm. Lunch in the on-site restaurant, the Roth Bar & Grill, is appreciated by all the guests before they head off to their next destination: the impressive North Cadbury Court.
One of the key elements of the mentor experience is the opportunity for young chefs to connect and learn from each other. Often, friends for life are made at hospitality events and you never know when a door could be opened by someone you meet as part of these kind of awards. Bronwen Jenkins, who works at the Royal Garden Hotel in London, explains: “I am excited to be given the opportunity to get together with young chefs who are in the same position as I am. The Graduate Awards have given me a chance to challenge and prove to myself that I can do things I never thought I could.”
North Cadbury Court is the venue for the afternoon’s butchery, fishmongery and dessert masterclasses, as well as the overnight stay. The court is the former home of the Montgomery family and it features spectacular grounds, an indoor swimming pool, games room, roof terrace and beautiful bedrooms. England’s World Cup semi-final game is on during the stay, so after a fantastic barbecue the chefs kick back and watch it together. Cheers can be heard for miles around when England score in the first 10 minutes, and while it would have been easy to have felt deflated after the match, the graduates make the most of the experience and party into the early hours.
The second day of the trip starts with the chefs cooking breakfast for everyone before visiting Manor Farm, where Montgomery’s Cheddar is produced. The chefs learn about the product’s journey from the dairy to the table, and the processes that go into creating different tastes and textures. And cheese is the theme for the morning as the next stop was Barber’s Cheddar, where the chefs see production on a larger scale.
Lunch is taken at family-run smokery Brown and Forrest, where the chefs are given a tour, and their final stop for the day is the Somerset Cider Brandy Company, where they enjoy a tasting session. It is an inspiring two days, only made possible by the support of the Graduate Awards sponsors.
The highlights of the trip
The whole trip is unforgettable from start to finish. Finalist Zachary Hermon from Dormy House says: “My favourite part has been the second day, when we were able to visit the two different cheesemakers’ farms. I learned so much and they had interesting stories to tell.”
Isabel Wallace-Hadrill, who works at Coutts Bank, adds: “The visit to the Montgomery Cheddar farm was the most eye-opening part for me. Hearing the passion with which James Montgomery spoke about his cheese made us realise the work that goes into it. I found it interesting when he explained that he uses a different starter each day and we tasted two Cheddars that were made two days apart. You could taste the different notes, and this highlighted the importance in the starter cultures used.”
George Birtwell from TrueFoods says: “The whole trip has been a great experience as I learned a lot throughout. However, I found the Barber’s Cheddar and Montgomery Cheese farm so interesting as I didn’t realise how starter cultures could make cheese so different.”
Chor Fai Shek from Restaurant Gordon Ramsay adds: “I felt really privileged to visit all the locations and to speak to the Graduate Awards suppliers on the evening at the barbecue. You could see how passionate each one was about their product.”
Are the chefs more prepared for the final exam?
One of the aims of the mentoring is to help as many chefs as possible achieve the pass mark of 85%. While the Guild does give recognition to the highest achiever, the awards are not a competition as any number of finalists could pass each year. What we see is chefs helping each other, whether that’s in the build-up or showing support on the day.
Hermon says: “The experience has made me more prepared because I got to talk to my fellow finalists and hear valuable points from them. Watching the chefs’ demos was helpful as they had some good tips for us to remember.”
Jenkins comments: “In the butchery and fishmongery tasks I now know what the judges are looking for. There are many ways to butcher things, but this set a level playing field for everyone. With the dessert masterclass, it was good to get tips on how to make the individual components of the dish as there are elements that are difficult or sometimes don’t work. We were taught how to fix problems if they occur.”
Ben Cowley from Simpsons Restaurant in Birmingham adds: “It’s great as a chef to meet people who put as much effort into making a product as we do in creating new dishes. Being able to talk to chefs who have years of experience in the industry just builds your confidence and self-belief.”
Birtwell concludes that the mentoring has made him feel more comfortable and helped to settle any nerves he had: “I now know what to expect. But no matter what the outcome, the experience has taught me a lot already, so it was really worth entering.”
The final of the Graduate Awards will take place on 21 August, and the results will be revealed at the awards presentation on 30 August.