Jacob Keen-Downs, sous chef at Rick Stein in Barnes, has been awarded The Caterer's 2020 Acorn Scholarship.
He became the 18th Acorn scholar after impressing the judging panel with his ambitious plans to launch Inside Table, a networking forum for apprentices and their mentors. His success was announced at a presentation dinner last night at the Kimpton Fitzroy hotel, London, following a day of judging in which 11 candidates competed for the title.
Keen-Downs himself studied as an apprentice at Westminster Kingsway College, where he identified the growing problem of chef apprentices dropping out during their studies and after graduation. With the current shortage of chefs in the industry, the judges saw real potential and value in his plan.
Over the next 12 months, two of the judges - Jo Harley, managing director of people engagement consultancy PurpleCubed and Adam Bateman, group operations and development chef, InterContinental Hotels Group, will support Keen-Downs in developing his idea.
Another judge, Kayleigh Wilshire, global learning and development manager at the Dorchester Collection, said: "Whilst many apprenticeship providers have opportunities within their own businesses, Jacob's idea offers potential for exposure to other brands and training experiences."
Fellow judge, Jon Reed, brand director of Paddy & Scott's, added: "The dropout of chef apprenticeships is close to Jacob's heart and at 23 years old he impressed us with his ambition to tackle the problem."
Hannah Horler, managing director of Cartwheel Recruitment, said: "From a recruitment perspective, more clearly needs to be done with tackling retention at entry level."
Keen-Downs's £5,000 prize tally, included a £2,000 bursary for bespoke professional development opportunities, agreed with the Acorn Scholarship team, to support him in achieving his goal.
The scholarship judges included: Lisa Jenkins, products and suppliers editor, The Caterer; Kayleigh Wiltshire; Hannah Horler, Jon Reed; Jo Harley; Adam Bateman; Moira Laird, HR director, Valor Hospitality Partners; Ruston Toms, chairman of the PM Trust and founding director of Blue Apple Contract Catering; and 2019 Acorn Scholar, Shane Cooke.
Previous winners of the Acorn Scholarship include Shane Cooke, senior company executive chef for independent catering company Vacherin; Lee Bye, chef-patron, Tuddenham Mill, Suffolk; Charlotte Horler, operations manager, New Hall Hotel & Spa, Hand Picked Hotels; Daniel McLoughlin, business manager at Rocksalt Café, Leinster, Ireland; and Simon Houston, director at Houston & Hawkes.
The Acorn Scholarship is a self-nominated award. Sponsors include the Dorchester Collection, Principal Hotels, Valor Hospitality Partners and the PM Trust with patrons Purple Cubed and the Springboard Charity.
The remaining ten finalists will be given feedback and allocated a member of the Acorn Scholarship panel to liaise with for future support.