Last month, a panel of industry leaders gathered at Luke's Dining Room at Sanctum on the Green in Berkshire to discuss the role of cookery competitions in the UK.
Industry heavyweights including Brian Turner, president of the Academy of Culinary Arts; Nick Vadis, executive chef of Compass UK & Ireland; Geoff Booth, head of catering at Westminster Kingsway College; and the UK's current Bocuse d'Or candidate Adam Bennett came together to share ideas on how competitions could be improved to help boost the industry as a whole.
From student contests to the world-famous Bocuse d'Or, the group called for an industry-wide standard to govern competitions to ensure young chefs continue to be inspired and have the ability to succeed both on a national and international stage.
What's more, industry bodies need to work together to make this happen and rules must apply to competitions and competitors as much as their judges, the group warned.
The panel concurred that colleges have a duty to get students involved in competitions to help their development and growth from an early stage of their career. But bigger colleges must support smaller schools to ensure a level playing field.
Ultimately the group agreed that the experience of taking part in a competition is as valuable as walking away a winner. It is up to the industry as a whole to make sure future generations are given the right opportunities to shine.
THE VALUE OF COMPETITIONS:
Brian Turner: "Competitions are an experience in themselves. Often the finalists are just as if not more important than the winner as they might have developed further throughout the competition. There is just as much potential and possibility in the finalists as the winners. The whole essence of competitions is the people you meet, the places you go and the dishes you and other chefs cook."
Piers Devereux: "Celebration of participation is equally important as winning. Competitions need to reflect this and to this end, we're making some changes to Nestlé Toque d'Or for our 25th anniversary year. It's not just about celebrating the winners."
Adam Bennett: "Competitions change the way you look at things and give you the opportunity to focus on the minute detail. Even at my age, competitions are an experience."
Geoff Booth: "Competitions are like Formula 1. They enable people to develop a lot of skills at high speed in a pressure cooker environment. But this has to translate into everyday cooking."
AB: "The attitude you apply in competitions must be applied to your every day job. Competitions help you learn about your capabilities. When prepping for competitions, you need to go into forensic detail. This shouldn't be any different from the day job. You're being judged every day on the food you cook. The adoration that comes with competitions stems from you being a top chef every day."
THE NEED FOR AN INDUSTRY-WIDE STANDARD TO GOVERN COMPETITIONS:
GB: "Common standards need to kick in early and apply to all competitions even those that students as young as 12 participate in. We need to get young chefs used to these rules from a young age to enable them to compete on a level playing field."
BT: "It doesn't stop there and a general standard needs to apply to competitions and competitors as much as it does to judges. It's imperative we have a common standard across the industry for how judging panels are put together; how the criteria are put together - things that should be second nature but often aren't."
Nick Vadis: "The problem is that we don't have one cohesive team in the UK. At the recent Culinary Olympics, Sweden won everything as they have a cohesive team and all their organisations work together. In the UK the British Culinary Federation has the ticket to compete on a national stage and represent our country. But their team isn't truly representative of the entire talent pool in the UK. Ideally there needs to be an umbrella organisation under which the UK is represented on a global stage. We need to get all the organisations in one room to have this conversation."
BT: "The biggest hurdle in making this happen is getting everyone to work together without compromising and giving up the personality of their own organisation. They want to maintain independence and have a say in their own future."
THE ROLE OF COLLEGES:
GB: "If an industry standard is applied it needs to filter down to colleges too. Competitions are a great motivator for students but colleges need to understand the rules of engagement and what's expected of them."
AB: "I get the feeling that some college lecturers don't have the confidence or knowledge how to enter and I see a role for mentoring to help some of the smaller colleges get involved to give their students the opportunity to compete."
GB: "The worst thing that colleges like Birmingham and like ourselves can do for the morale of smaller colleges is to keep on winning competitions. What we need is different leagues so that everyone has the opportunity to compete, using the same standards and rules but on a level playing field. Large colleges have a duty of care to support smaller colleges. We've got to be magnanimous enough to spare time and share secrets to help smaller players compete in competitions."
BOX: ATTENDEES: Adam Bennett, head chef at Simpson's Edgbaston and the UK's current Bocuse d'Or candidate
Geoff Booth, head of catering, Westminster Kingsway College
Piers Devereux, marketing manager, Nestle Professional
Anne-Sophie Labruyere, GOU station and UK representative Sirha and Bocuse d'Or
Brian Turner, president of the Academy of Culinary Arts
Nick Vadis, executive chef of Compass UK & Ireland and coach for team UK at the Bocuse d'Or