Alex Maphalala, kitchen porter at BaxterStorey working at the Health Services Laboratories in London, has won the 2023 Kitchen Porter of the Year competition, organised by The Caterer in partnership with warewasher manufacturer Winterhalter UK.
Maphalala was presented with his award by Stephen Kinkhead, managing director of Winterhalter UK, in a ceremony this morning (5 December).
"This award is a big surprise to me," said Maphalala. "It's good to be recognised in this way.
"I've been in hospitality for less than six years and worked in many different kitchens but now, having been here for three years, it's nice to be recognised for my efforts. I also want to thank my wonderful team for their efforts too."
A highly-regarded member of the BaxterStorey team, Maphalala was recognised for his work supporting staff by promoting a healthy and happy working environment and prioritising mental health and wellbeing. He has pursued a national vocational qualification in mental health and encouraged the team to have open conversations about stress management.
He has also worked to improve the team's sustainability and food waste measures. Using his experience as a butcher, Maphalala regularly supports chefs to prepare meat for service and shows them how to make the most of any leftovers. He also regularly collaborates with the head chef to repurpose food waste into different soups and broths.
A dedicated team player, Maphalala goes beyond his remit to help others, stepping in when chefs are absent to prepare service for over 100 people and training agency chefs to ensure consistent quality in the kitchen.
Maphalala's efforts and achievements resulted in him being awarded KP of the Year at BaxterStorey's internal People Awards 2023 in July of this year.
Kinkead said: "We all know how important a kitchen porter is in a kitchen. They are the right hand of the chef and the backbone of the kitchen.
"Alex is an exceptional worker and an eco-warrior in the kitchen. He constantly is coming up with ways to reuse any waste food and is the master of a soup or two. He is a butcher, a baker (not sure about a candlestick maker) and an advocate of wellbeing in the kitchen.
"The choice was unanimous between the judges for Alex to be crowned Kitchen Porter of the Year."
Praveen Gujra, general manager of catering facilities at BaxterStorey, who put Maphalala forward for the award, said: "I nominated Alex for all the things that he does on an everyday basis which go unnoticed. So, this was a chance for us to acknowledge all those things.
"After he won the company award, we found out that entries for The Caterer and Winterhalter KP of the Year had just opened, so I thought, ‘Let's put him up for this'.
"The team could not be more proud of someone who truly deserves this; he's just phenomenal. It shows in his work ethic and the way he carries himself. This was truly a chance for us to sing Alex's praises."
Maphalala's prize package includes the coveted KP of the Year trophy, a piece of Winterhalter kit worth up to £10,000 for his employer, £1,000 in vouchers and a celebratory meal with friends and family in a casual dining restaurant of his choice.
This year, the judges also announced two joint runners-up: Elisabetta Cenderello, kitchen porter at 21 Hospitality Group, and Consti Istrate, kitchen porter at Manchester Central Convention Complex, who will both receive a cash prize.
Every kitchen porter who entered the competition will receive an Oliver Hardy KP of the Year branded apron in recognition of their duties in their kitchens.
Now in its tenth year, the competition aims to recognise kitchen porters working in restaurants, pubs, schools, contract caterers and hotels across the country. The award has gone from strength to strength with consistently high numbers of entries and is the only competition in the industry to recognise and celebrate the back-breaking work of kitchen porters across the industry.
The Kitchen Porter of the Year judging panel included Lisa Jenkins, chief executive of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts, Matthew Marshall, executive chef Royal Automobile Club, Paul Mattocks, executive chef at the Victory Services Club, Ben Murphy, chef patron at Launceston Place, and Stephen Kinkead, managing director, Winterhalter UK.
Image: Praveen Gujra (L), Alex Maphalala (middle), Stephen Kinkhead (R) credit: Hospitality Media/Adrian Franklin