Enthusiastic young chefs keen to show off their culinary talents on a world stage will be on display at Hotelympia in the WorldSkills UK Search for a Star event. Janet Harmer reports
Just three months after the UK team of 22 young skilled workers enjoyed the experience of a lifetime at WorldSkills 2007 in Japan, the search is on to find the candidates to follow in their footsteps to compete in Calgary, Canada, at WorldSkills 2009. The WorldSkills UK Search for a Star event at Hotelympia will aim to talent-spot chefs, aged 21 and under with the potential to fly the flag for the UK.
The biennial WorldSkills event sees young people from all over the globe taking part in a variety of skills competitions in disciplines such as cabinet making, landscape gardening, graphic design, floristry and hairdressing. The hospitality industry is represented by three categories - cooking, confectionery and pastry cooking, and restaurant service - and the process to select the UK competitors in the two cooking categories for 2009 begins at Hotelympia.
Pastry chef Will Torrent, who competed in Japan alongside Graham Squire, chef de partie at Claridge's, London, and Julie Doig, head waiter in the Strathearn restaurant at Gleneagles, Auchterarder, says the experience was a hugely positive one. "Taking part in WorldSkills has given me confidence to go out into the professional world with a determination to work for, and consequently become, the best," he says, as he embarks upon a two-month stage working for Heston Blumenthal at the Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire.
Torrent, who won a medallion of excellence in Japan, is looking forward to seeing eager young chefs with a burning desire to reach the top of their career take part in Search for a Star. "By competing at WorldSkills, they will be propelled to a world level and that's something very much to be proud of," he says. "They will also benefit from the immense and fantastic training that, if selected for the team, they will get."
As well as being comprehensive, the training process in the run-up to WorldSkills is long and arduous. Once selected to represent the UK, every competitor is assigned a training manager, who will draw up a skills training programme. In addition, there will be training sessions - led by the UK team leaders - on team-building, extreme personal focus, stamina, time management, nutrition and physical fitness.
Torrent's training manager, Yolande Stanley, senior lecturer in pâtisserie at Thames Valley University, will mentor the UK pastry competitor over the 18 months leading up to Calgary. "Anyone keen to become a competitor must have real excitement and eagerness about the prospect of the whole event," she says. "They must display tenacity, confidence and the ability to absorb and take on board constructive criticism and advice."
As well as possessing a solid set of skills and artistic flair, potential competitors need to be organised and focused in their work, and have a clean and hygienic work practice. Competitors also need to be cool cookies. "It's important that they're able to overcome adversity and improvise if the unexpected presents itself, as well as not be fazed by the audience interest," explains Stanley.
In judging the Search for a Star event, Stanley will be joined by Torrent, Squire, Peter Joyner (Squire's team manager in Japan and the cooking mentor for Canada), Peter Griffiths, Brian Turner and Martyn Nail.
Joyner says that while it's important to find youngsters with skills which can be developed further, it's perhaps more important to select individuals who have the right demeanour to compete on a world stage, which means the ability to apply themselves with total dedication and thrive in a highly pressurised situation. "And very importantly, they should be seen to enjoy what they are doing," he says.
Sweet or savoury
The cooking category of Search for a Star will see candidates preparing, cooking and presenting a fish dish of their own choice, plus a sweet or savoury tarte tatin, both for two covers, in 60 minutes. The pastry entrants will prepare, cook and present one hot sweet for two covers, as well as decorate one gâteau or torte using a pre-prepared base in any medium and style of the candidates' choice.
Search for a Star is being held as a taster competition to enable potential competitors to understand the standard of WorldSkills. A further shortlisting competition will take place soon after Hotelympia.
For more details on WorldSkills 2009, including the restaurant service selection process, visit www.worldskillsuk.org