Registrations to enter the 2021 Nestlé Professional Toque d'Or competition close on 16 March and judges Louisa Ellis and Alison Taffs have some top tips and advice for potential competitors.
Ellis, winner of MasterChef The Professionals: A Festive Knockout, started her career in hospitality at Barnfield College in Luton and has worked at some the UK's top restaurants, including Adams in Birmingham and Restaurant Sat Bains.
Ellis (pictured below) is "ecstatic to be a judge," and has been following the Toque d'Or competition for some time. "The competition gives apprentices and young professional chefs an opportunity to step out of their comfort zones. It wasn't long ago that I was in their shoes."
Ellis is looking for entrants who will try their best, "and I'll be looking to see organised chefs and entrants who understand their ingredients".
The competition will have a sustainability and nutrition focus and will require the competitors to consider their ingredients, said Ellis. "I'd like them to research Fairtrade products, for instance, and think about making some healthy substitutions in their dishes."
Drinks expert and micro pub operator Taffs, who has been a judge at Toque d'Or since 2017, says rather than watching for specific skills from front of house competitors (apprentices and young professionals), she looks for "a mindset."
"We want entrants who show their curiosity, who have done their research and got under the skin of a product. Whether that's the provenance of a wine or the ingredients used to produce a particular spirit. We are, of course, also looking for excellent communicators."
Asked for their top tips for competing, Ellis said: "Practice, practice and practice. On the third time of practising, it will be much better, and you will notice mistakes and can also prepare for a plan B."
Taffs added: "Read the question, then read it again, and demonstrate your understanding of it."
In terms of communicating the sustainability message front of house, Taffs said: "Make sure your message is relatable to your guest. Be enthusiastic and passionate with your information, and remember to return eye contact with your guests and respond to questions in a way they will find interesting."
Ellis concluded: "This industry is all about putting smiles on peoples' faces. That's the best part of it and our hard work is rewarded by these positive reactions. I'm committed to supporting the future generation of the industry and if, like me, you don't always know what you want to do when leaving school, Toque d'Or gives you an opportunity to see many different sectors of hospitality and can really open your eyes."
- Registration deadline – 16 March
- Virtual assessment – 18 March
- Heat task communicated – 26 March
- Virtual cooking challenge – 15 April
- Finalists announced – 30 April
- Grand finals – week commencing 28 June. Awards made on the last day of the final
- Awards broadcast – July
To register or for more information, click here.