Competitions at Hotelympia

03 January 2008 by

There's a chance for both the young and the more experienced to shine in the many and varied live competitions at Hotelympia, to be staged in London next month. Joanna Wood gives us a preview

It's that time of year again - and we're not just talking about the festive banqueting fest. For anyone in the culinary world who's got the competitive bug, every other January is well and truly the countdown season to Hotelympia, the catering industry's prestigious biennial exhibition which incorporates the British Open Cookery Championships, also known as Le Salon Culinaire de Londres.

The 2008 event takes place from 17-21 February at ExCeL, London, and will see the return of some prestigious old favourites, including the staging of premier college competition the Toque d'Or, the finals of the Copa Jerez Sous Chef & Wine Waiter of the Year, and the perennially popular La Parade des Chefs, which replicates a "live" dining service in its specially built 94-seat restaurant area. But among the 80 competitive events - 30 in the Live Theatre, 15 in the display salon - there are also some important newcomers.

Chief among these are three high-profile junior competitions - the World Skills UK Search for a Star, staged by UK Skills in conjunction with Sector Skills Council People 1st, the City & Guilds 7100 Challenge, and the World Master Chefs Society Young Chef Challenge. As Salon and exhibition director Peter Griffiths explains: "I'm always looking for ways to improve the Salon and junior events are very important for its future - they're a great learning curve for young chefs."

As well as being an event in its own right, with gold, silver and bronze awards attached, the Search for a Star competition is linked to the hunt to find a young chef and pâtissier to represent the UK at the next WorldSkills event, due to be staged in Canada in 2009. The UK has struggled for success in the competition since Simon Hulstone claimed gold in the hot kitchen when WorldSkills was staged in Lyon more than a decade ago.

"I don't believe we've always reached out to everybody in the industry early enough, so the thinking behind this competition is to be a bit more proactive and to talent-spot as many young people as possible and start grooming them early for 2009," adds Griffiths.

The Hotelympia event will give its competitors a taster of the style of the WorldSkills competition, although it will in no way replicate the experience of the larger gathering - for one thing, it lasts only 60 minutes as opposed to stretching over several days. Essentially, the hot kitchen competitors will have to cook a fish dish and a tarte tatin, while the pâtissiers' challenge will be to cook a hot sweet and decorate a gâteau or torte.

Of course, it's not only the juniors who have a smattering of new competitions. Other events being staged for the first time at Hotelympia are geared to more experienced chefs, such as Marston's Al Fresco Challenge, a quick-fire competition lasting 30 minutes centred around the growing market of outside dining. Then there's the British Culinary Federation's Chef Team Challenge (two chefs, 75 minutes to produce an amuse-bouche and two-course lunch menu), the Tilda Chef of the Year (one hour for a main and dessert, both using rice) and the annual Sodexho Chef of the Year.

However, for many visitors, chefs or otherwise, one of the highlights of Hotelympia is always La Parade des Chefs, the competition which has at its heart a "live" restaurant service. This year's competition will see 10 teams battling for supremacy in the custom-built kitchens and restaurant, including some La Parade virgins - the teams from the House of Commons, the International Convention Centre in Birmingham and Sheffield College.

As usual, everyone will have to cook a plated, three-course lunch taking into consideration a menu price cap of £32 per head. The restaurant area has 94 seats per team, but Griffiths has bowled the teams a bit of a googly in the shape of a chef's table for each kitchen. This will add another six covers to the service: straightforward enough, but guests at the chefs' tables will also have an amuse-bouche and pre-dessert delivered to them.

"Chefs' tables are so popular at the moment that I just thought, ‘why not?'" explains Griffiths. "I've had fairly positive feedback about it, so if the idea's successful we'll probably keep it next time round."

The demanding Griffiths is a happy man at the moment, as his hard work in assembling the salon schedule appears to be paying off. "We've been way oversubscribed for all the competitions, so it's looking good for February," he says.

Nestle Toque d'Or 2008

Now in its 20th year, the Nestlé Toque d'Or remains the UK's premier college competition, and in 2008 its early rounds will be staged at Hotelympia once the 16 teams which pass through an initial paper judging round have been chosen. Closing date for entries is 21 January, so if you fancy following in the footsteps of 2007 champions Blackpool and the Fylde College, then there's still time for a tilt at the title.

All you need to do is select a team comprising four chefs and two front-of-house members, create an original dining concept and design a three-course lunchtime menu, and then submit your entry for paper judging. If you clear this first hurdle you will be invited, as one of 16 teams, to cook and serve your menu to 20 guests in the Toque d'Or heats held in the La Parade des Chefs kitchens on one of the five days of Hotelympia.

The competition has various ingredient criteria and a budget restriction. For further details and entry forms, download from or call 020 8667 5530.

Live Competitions

Sunday 17 February

  • Hotelympia Fish Dish Challenge
  • Gram Masterclass
  • Essential Cuisine Masterclass
  • Figgjo Masterclass
  • It's All the ‘Prep'aration
  • Marston's Al Fresco Challenge
  • British Culinary Federation Team Challenge
  • La Parade des Chefs

Monday 18 February

  • Junior Traditional Pasta
  • Major Mini Series
  • The British Pepper & Spice "Millstone" Ethnic Class
  • Sodexho Chef of the Year
  • Copa Jerez Sous Chef & Wine Waiter of the Year
  • La Parade des Chefs

Tuesday 19 February

  • Meat New Zealand Junior Challenge
  • Meat New Zealand Challenge
  • Steelite International "A Passion to Inspire": the Creative Challenge
  • Robot Coupe Challenge
  • City & Guilds 7100 Challenge
  • Tilda Chef of the Year
  • La Parade des Chefs

Wednesday 20 February

  • World Master Chefs Society Young Chef Challenge
  • Gourmet Classic Challenge
  • TUCO Chef of the Year
  • Rational Master Chefs Grand Prix
  • La Parade des Chefs

Thursday 21 February

  • Senior Traditional Pasta
  • Hospital Team Event
  • UK Skills Search for a Star
  • Major International Football Culinary Challenge
  • La Parade des Chefs

Hotelympia 2008

Food service and hospitality show Hotelympia, which will be held from 17-21 February at London's ExCeL centre in the Docklands, showcases the latest products and innovations in the industry and offers visitors access to vital business information and the chance to attend events such as culinary competitions.

For tickets, call 0845 218 6044 or see for more information.

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