Hosted by Nestlé FoodServices, Toque d'Or, gives catering students the ultimate challenge of bringing their dream of a professional restaurant to life, providing experience, business acumen and invaluable industry contacts along the way.
Three years on from his triumph at the Grand Final, James now owns his own restaurant, the Bijou in Carlisle, and reflects fondly on the UK's most prestigious catering college competition which launched his lucrative career and taught him some invaluable business lessons.
"The Nestlé Toque d'Or has had a huge impact on my career and I'm sure that if I hadn't taken part, I would not be where I am today! The competition gave me a really good insight into the whole concept of catering that has helped me in the running of my own business. I realised that running a restaurant is more than just cooking and serving up dishes - it's about what your business represents, how to plan it successfully and the messaging you wish to place behind it."
The competition is a great learning curve for any student caterer - it's a long process but it sets you up for the future and gives you insight into the publicity of a restaurant and what it's like to be a chef in the public eye. Toque d'Or is important because it is highly respected by the industry and by catering students who see it as a springboard to success - you only have to look at previous contestants Anton Mosimann, Jamie Oliver and James Martin to see that!"
Now entering its 20th incredible year, Toque d'Or is back and the search is on again for Britain's most talented college catering team. As the teams pull together in a battle to win the coveted title of 2008 champions, the competition is fierce and only the very best team will survive. But according to James Hill - with a dash of Nestlé support and mentoring behind them and a generous serving of teamwork, success is theirs for the taking.
"The advice and guidance we received throughout the competition had a major part to play in our victory. To be involved with such a big company as Nestlé was great because we always had guidance from the experts who inspired us and gave us the drive and motivation we needed to succeed.
Professionalism was also key to winning the competition. Nestlé Toque d'Or is a real eye-opener - it teaches you how to blend different ideas and work together which is imperative in this industry and a crucial lesson for any aspiring chef. We were one small team from a department up against the big catering colleges, but we were absolutely determined to win - and luckily for us - we did!"