CH&Co Group's apprentice commis chef at Mansion House talks to Katey Pigden about winning the first Nestlé Professional Toque d'Or Apprentice competition and her plans for the future
What was it like being named the inaugural winner of the Nestlé Professional Toque d'Or Apprentice competition earlier this year?
It was amazing and unbelievable all at the same time. Once it had sunk in, when I was actually holding the trophy, I felt very proud. All my hard work over the past two years had paid off and it validated my belief that being a chef is just perfect for me.
What did the competition involve and how did you find the experience?
What did you learn from it?
I learned that in a competition you should stick to what you know. Leave the experimenting at home and bring your A game. I tried to do something I had never done before and burnt it, which was really embarrassing.
How did you become an apprentice commis chef at Mansion House and what does the job entail?
I initially contacted the University of West London about joining an apprentice programme. They put me in contact with a few companies and, after a trial with CH&Co Group, I knew the company was for me. I was placed at Mansion House and I love working there. It is a banqueting kitchen and we also do private dinners for a range of VIPs, including prime ministers and heads of state. We serve lunch daily for the Lord Mayor and cater for his guests. I am currently gaining experience all around the kitchen and I'm with a great team. I love all areas, especially larder, sauce and pastry, so I'm happy to take on any job given to me.
What's your background?
My mother is Swedish and my dad is English and I have lived in south east London all my life. I love that part of the city because it's multicultural and has a wonderfully vast array of cuisines on offer. I went to Prendergast School for girls where I was very involved in sports - I was a competitive swimmer for 10 years.
Who or what inspires you?
My biggest inspiration is probably my father. He is also a chef and owns his own bar and restaurant on Tower Bridge. I didn't see him a lot in my childhood, which I realise was because of the long hours he worked to build a business and support our family. His determination is a massive inspiration and it has taught me that passion and dedication does equal success. I also greatly admire Karen Poynter, Chester Boyd's executive chef. She is so talented and such a positive role model for female chefs.
How did you become interested in the hospitality industry?
Most of my life I was more interested in eating food than cooking it. When I was studying for my A-levels I realised that I was happiest making lunch or reading my dad's old cookery books. So, at the age of 18 I decided to become a chef. The first six months were tough. It's a very hard environment and being a young girl in a male-dominated industry is daunting. The hours are long, it's physically demanding and at times it can be laborious. But, once I found my feet and confidence, the job began to give me the joy I knew it would.
What are your future plans?
There are so many opportunities. I'd like to travel around South America as I love the cuisine. I also want to work in restaurants, markets, vineyards and hotels all over the world to become a very well-rounded chef. Eventually, I'd like to own my own small business, perhaps an inn or a small hotel, and cook great food using the skills I'm developing.
Has anyone ever tried to talk you out of a career in hospitality?
I know I want to be a chef and I'm prepared to work hard to make it happen. I've had people question my desire to work long hours in a hot kitchen and ask how I would cope.