Lexine Hepworth, 20, has surprised the French by being named the best apprentice in France. She talks to Janet Harmer
What is your current position? I am currently doing my Baccalauréat exams at college in Souillac in the Lot region and working in Lacave as an apprentice at the one-Michelin-starred Pont de l'Ouysse hotel and restaurant.
How did you set about organising your training and work in France? My parents wanted to move to France to open a restaurant. I refused to go until I came across the catering college, Lycée Hôtelier Quercy-Périgord, when I was 16 and decided it would be a great opportunity to learn French cooking.
Initially on moving to France, I did work experience at the Michelin-starred Les Trois Soleils de Montal in St-Céré. When I decided I wanted to do an apprenticeship, my chef at college set me up at Pont de l'Ouysse.
How has working abroad enhanced your career as a chef? I have learnt a lot about produce that I might not have got the chance to use back home - for example, living in the Lot, foie gras, truffles and duck are plentiful. It's also great to be talking French every day. I think it's really important to learn another language as a chef, especially French, as French cooking is respected in kitchens worldwide.
Has it been difficult proving yourself as a young woman in a French kitchen? To start with it was really hard being an English female in a French kitchen. I didn't speak much French and I have really had to earn my respect among the other cooks and students at my college.
Are there other British chefs working alongside you? There are a few other English students at my college, but at work the cooks are all French. We also have a few Japanese cooks who come and work with us during the summer.
How have you coped with learning the French language? I got A* in French in my GCSEs before moving to France, so I already spoke some French. I moved in at college - most students don't live nearby, so there are dorm rooms - which really helped, as I had no choice but to speak French all day and night.
What has surprised you most about working in France? It has to be the emphasis on the training of young people. When I won the Meilleur Apprenti de France (Best Apprentice in France), I went to the Sénat in Paris for my medal, and it was really inspiring to see so many young trainees being awarded for their hard work.
Do you think you would have made the same progress as a chef if you had trained and worked in England? I think being at college in France and having the opportunity to do the cooking competitions has been amazing - I don't think they have the same competitions back home. Learning French cooking in France has also been a fantastic experience, which will, I think, help me in the future.
Where else in the world would you like to work and why? I would love to go and work in Italy. I think there is such passion and beauty there. But I think later on I would like to have my own restaurant in France.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Winning the Trophée Jean Rougié 2011 (truffle and foie gras) and Meilleur Apprenti de France 2009 competitions was amazing. It wasn't just for me, but for all my teachers at college who have taught me and helped me learn the language.
Do you think the French have been surprised by your success? Yes, I think anyone who doesn't know me would be surprised. Even I am surprised! People make jokes about me being English, but as soon as they get to know me they see that I work hard, and I'm passionate about what I do, and I think that's really important in this line of work.
CV LEXINE HEPWORTH
The Queen hotel, Chester, England Two weeks' work experience
Le Lion d'Or, Rocamadour, France One week's work experience
Les Trois Soleils de Montal, St-Céré, France
(One Michelin star) - three months' work experience
Le Pont de L'Ouysse, Lacave, France (One Michelin star) - two years' apprenticeship