Throughout the year, Caterer has been recognising outstanding individuals with our Star of the Month award. Kerstin Kühn went to meet the 2008 overall winner
Ashley Palmer-Watts, head chef at the three-Michelin-starred Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire, has been named Star of the Year and wins a Harrods hamper, courtesy of our partner, P&G Professional. He was nominated by Monica Brown of Lotus PR for his work with the Merton Young Carers group in south London.
Scroll down to watch the video interview with Ashley Palmer-Watts
Why did you nominate Ashley?
Monica Brown Ashley contributes an enormous amount of personal time to charity, and in February taught children from eight to 12 years old how to cook basic dishes and staples that they can add to. The children involved were all young carers who look after their mentally ill or disabled parents and have many chores to do at home, and cooking a family meal is just one of the difficulties they face on a daily basis. Ashley not only used his skills to teach them about cooking but also provided them with a creative and fun environment - and a well-needed break. One eight-year-old commented that it was great to have had some "me" time.
How does it feel to win Star of the Year?
Ashley Palmer-Watts I'm really pleased to have won but, while it's great to be recognised, it's also really nice to have been able to give something back. Looking at this wonderful hamper makes me think of the kids, and how they've never had anything like this.
What motivated you to spend the day with the kids back in February?
The organisers of the Merton Kids Can Cook project wrote a letter to Heston Blumenthal at the Fat Duck because we already do cookery lessons at a school in Marlow, Buckinghamshire. My wife and I live in the borough of Merton, so I was instantly drawn to the project.
What did you do with them?
We started off describing tastes and explaining how tasting something works in terms of the physical reactions of your body - by holding your nose and eating something and then comparing the taste when you let go of your nose - and then I went on to teaching them how to cook basic dishes. We made a butternut squash soup and then a cold pasta salad, and the aim was to show them to make something they can easily do at home. Afterwards, the kids got into three groups and made a chocolate mousse and, while that was setting, we made ice-cream for them using liquid nitrogen.
How did the kids respond?
They absolutely loved it and, for me, it was such a brilliant experience to see them get so excited. At first they didn't want to go anywhere near the butternut but, after a while, they really got into it. Seeing them go from "I don't want this" to "Can I have some more?" was hugely rewarding. Some kids told me they don't even have cookers at home, and only eat meals heated in a microwave, so it was just great to see them have fun with food.
Have you done any more work with the kids since then?
I used the £500 prize money I won from the Star of the Month award to take the kids to Jody Scheckter's organic farm, Laverstoke Park, for a day in July. They really loved it, and for some it was the first time in their lives that they had got out of London. They picked their own lettuces and potatoes, played with the pigs, bottle-fed water buffalos and held some baby chicks. Since then, I've started to work with a different group of children, which includes some special needs kids. These sessions are focused more on demonstrations than cookery lessons, as some of the kids have a hard time concentrating. But I've really enjoyed it and am doing two more sessions with them next year.
Watch the video interview with Ashley Palmer-Watts hereSponsor's message P&G Professional is the award-winning, dedicated out-of-home division of leading consumer goods company Procter & Gamble. The company's famous brands - Fairy Expert, Flash, Ariel and Lenor - are available in professional variants, specially formulated to meet the cleaning needs of the hospitality sector. James Arnold, UK business leader (sales & marketing), says: "Our market-leading brands help the dedicated people working both front- and back-of-house to make the customer's experience an enjoyable one. We are proud to have supported the Star of the Month award, which has generated a high calibre of nominations and demonstrated what incredibly committed people work within the hospitality industry. "We are delighted to be presenting this year's overall award to Ashley, who has proved himself a most worthy winner. "The Star of the Month has attracted nominations from all sectors and job roles within the hospitality industry and has represented a unique opportunity to recognise and celebrate these unsung heroes."