Tom Hamblet, the 15-year-old winner of this year's FutureChef competition, has grown up with parents who are both chefs, inspiring his love of hospitality. He talks to Hannah Thompson about training and his top ambition
Tom Hamblet, aged 15 and of Tanbridge House School in West Sussex, has won this year's Springboard FutureChef 2015 competition.
He was crowned the winner on 23 March after beating 11 other regional finalists to the title, held at London's Westminster Kingsway College, having cooked a menu of poached sole fillet with dill and spinach stuffing, purple sprouting broccoli, potatoes and fish cream foam, and a dessert of vanilla cake with raspberry sorbet, bitter chocolate ganache and caramel nut clusters.
Hamblet is surrounded by top chefs on a daily basis: he's the son of Lewis Hamblet, executive chef at the three-AA-rosette, 89-bedroom South Lodge hotel in Horsham (part of Exclusive Hotels), and Haley Hamblet, who trained at Le Gavroche.
Hamblet is enthusiastic and hardworking and makes no secret of his ambition to follow in his family's footsteps. It seems more apt than ever, then, that the FutureChef trophy is a plate, as this teenager is set to dish up many more culinary creations yet.
Congratulations on becoming this year's FutureChef winner. How does it feel to have won?
I'm absolutely delighted to have won, but I'm also glad it's over. You can't help having expectations, so that puts the pressure on.
How did you prepare for the day?
I practised twice a week at South Lodge hotel, and I also went to different kitchens so I wouldn't be dependent on equipment I knew well. After every practice I adjusted my notes and running order, finding solutions to problems. This had me ready for the big day.
How did you work with Christopher Basten, your mentor?
He helped me so much. He knows what judges are looking for, [such as] using lots of methods and balancing the dishes properly. He used to take me to South Lodge to practice. Time management was a focus and we really worked on that.
What was the most difficult bit?
The pressure was tough. I would have had to tell the chefs in the kitchen I'd lost. Imagine telling Matt Gillan [head chef, South Lodge hotel] or Alex Wibberley [executive pastry chef], or my dad [the executive chef] that I hadn't won! No, thanks!
How has the competition made you consider your future career?
I'm going to be a chef anyway, but it has given me confidence. I have a place at Westminster Kingsway College for one day a week, and then I will be at South Lodge four days a week, but FutureChef will be a big part of my development, I'm sure.
How do you feel about your prizes? What are you most looking forward to?
The prizes are brilliant. The experiences I will have are the most exciting thing, as well as the books and the money. I don't know what Henley Regatta is really, but I'm sure I will be finding out in June. My mum's looking at hats already!
Now you have finished the competition, what advice would you have for future participants?
Anyone who didn't win this year should re-enter - the experience gained will help. If it's the first time, then practice hard and in different kitchens, and make sure you can do it in the time allowed.
Will you try to do more competitions in future now you've done this one?
Christopher [Basten] said he'll enter me in competitions when I'm at Westminster. I'm keen to do more.
Which chefs do you most admire?
I work with some great chefs at South Lodge. Also my mum, Haley, who helped me with my dessert. The famous chefs I really like watching are Gordon Ramsay, as he's very clear when he explains things. I'd also like to work with Richard Davies and Michael Wignall.
Previous winners have gone on to work within hospitality or to open their own restaurants. What about you?
I definitely want to progress in the industry, so I hope I can do well. I will try my hardest. If you have managed to win FutureChef, then it would suggest that you have a future in catering, so I'll try to go for it.
Follow Tom's win and career via his Twitter account @tomtheginer
The two other podium winners
- Second place Jai Parsons, 15, Castlebrae Community High in Edinburgh
- Prizes include A work placement in the Delaware North VIP area alongside Mark Reynolds, executive chef for hospitality, and a back-of-house tour of Wembley Stadium.
- Third place Ciaran Liddy, 14, Rathmore Grammar School, Belfast
- Prizes include The chance to help produce a fine-dining banquet for 100 VIP guests, as part of a celebrity dinner with Elior development chefs' mentor John Paul Leake.
Notable previous winners: where are they now?
- 2014 Anna Carmichael, Merseyside Enrolled at Westminster Kingsway College
- 2013 Hayley Cancea, Cambridgeshire Studying food A-level and preparing to go to university
- 2011 Jessica Higgins, Worcestershire In her final university year, studying food and consumer management
- 2009 Luke Thomas, Berkshire Chef-patron of Luke's Kitchen, Berkshire
Now in its 15th year, FutureChef is an annual initiative, delivered in more than 500 schools nationwide, to help promote the importance of cooking skills, good nutrition and the potential of a hospitality career to people aged between 12 and 16.
This year's contest received 8,000 entries from young chefs around the UK, who were then whittled down to a dozen contenders via a series of school, local and regional heats.
Competitors were asked to prepare a two-course meal with a hot main course and dessert, for three people in two hours from a specially selected basket of ingredients. These included guinea fowl, lemon sole, Ragstone goat's cheese, spinach, purple sprouting broccoli, chorizo, dark chocolate and macadamia nuts. They could also use larder items, such as oil, stock, wine, herbs, plain flour, sugar, vanilla pods and double cream.
As well as the competition, FutureChef organises classes, workshops and school visits from professional ambassadors across the industry.
- Chairman Brian Turner
- Head judge David Mulcahy, culinary director, Sodexo UK and Ireland; and vice-president of the Craft Guild of Chefs
- Steve Munkley, executive chef, the Royal Garden hotel
- Adam Degg, head pastry chef, Chiltern Firehouse
- Adam Handling, executive chef, Adam Handling at Caxton
- Hayden Groves, executive chef, BaxterStorey
- Joe Queen, executive chef, Tennent's Training Academy
- Matt Owens, executive pastry chef, Fusion Catering Solutions
- Simon Stocker, advanced practitioner, Westminster Kingsway College
- Richard Davies, executive chef, the Manor House
- Anna Carmichael, FutureChef winner 2014 and future Westminster Kingsway College student
- £100 for all finalists (plus medals, commemorative plate, aprons and skullcaps)
- A behind-the-scenes chance to work with top chefs at Henley Regatta
- A Thames boat trip for Tom's parents
- An afternoon of Henley hospitality, courtesy of Sodexo, for Tom and his parents
- £400 of vouchers for Tanbridge House School
- A commemorative plate for mentor Christopher Basten