The 2021 Nestlé Professional Toque d'Or judge speaks to Lisa Jenkins about taking part in competitions herself, the advice she has gathered over the years and what she loves about being a private chef.
You've recently joined the ranks of chef competition judge – how does it feel?
I'm very excited to be a judge for Toque d'Or as I've been following the competition for some time, but it wasn't that long ago that I was in the competitors' shoes.
I'll be looking for entrants who simply try their best. For me, organisation is key to being successful in competitions.
You were a finalist in the 2017 MasterChef The Professionals competition and won the 2020 festive series. What did you learn from this experience?
The most important thing I learned is that you should always believe in yourself. No matter how old you are or how much experience you have as a chef, you will always continue to grow if you are willing to take risks and think out of the box.
"You will always continue to grow if you are willing to take risks and think out of the box
What do you enjoy most about hospitality?
This industry is all about putting smiles on people's faces. That's the best part of it: our hard work is rewarded by positive reactions.
The pandemic has also allowed us all to be more generous and supportive of each other – and I'm committed to supporting the future generation of the industry.
What advice do you give students about working in hospitality?
I've been back to Barnfield College in Luton since MasterChef. My advice to the students was to practice dishes in their spare time. Although they will learn all the basics at college, there's nothing stopping them from getting one step ahead and being creative at home. Practicing dishes will enhance their skills and make them feel more confident when stepping into a job role.
During the restrictions and lockdowns you're converted your private chef business into a dine at home delivery business – was this a relatively easy process?
By no means was it easy, I had to think on my feet quickly, just like the rest of the industry. I rented out a kitchen and have been offering a ‘heat at home' menu to my local community. This is normally a five-course menu for around 60 covers per weekend.
Will you return to be being a private chef after lockdown?
Yes, I really enjoy it. I like being my own boss and deciding my own dishes and hours. You could say I am a bit of a workaholic – I'm always thinking of new ideas and adventures.
What style of dishes are you cooking at the moment?
Although my cooking in the pandemic has been focused on big flavours and ease of heating at home for the customer, I prefer to serve dishes with a little more flair. As well as taste, presentation is just as important, which is why I enjoy the private dining side of things, as the plating is in my control.
My style of food is typically a mixture of French methods with British ingredients. Occasionally I like to bring in flavours from around the world, when I feel it is necessary or if I come up with a dish with a wow factor.
How do you think the industry will change post-Covid?
I feel it is going to be extremely difficult for hospitality workers with mental health challenges, as they will need to get back into the swing of things.
We need to act to stamp out negative attitudes and the glamourising of long hours. Head chefs and restaurant owners have the responsibility of their team's mental health. If key role models demonstrate this in the industry, we will move forward. Sadly, there are many ‘old school' chefs stuck in their ways who think it's OK to continue working like this, because they had to once upon a time.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
Just to practice. It's pretty simple if you think about it – we can all be lazy at times and take shortcuts, but if you spend that extra time practising and focusing on the skills you are not so good at, you will see big improvements.
If you think about it, all chefs need an ‘MOT', if you like. Top yourself up with inspiration by reading recipe books or watching cooking competitions and shows, and your fire will reignite.
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