Charlie Stockwell, apprentice chef at Galvin La Chapelle and Royal Academy of Culinary Arts student at Westminster Kingsway College, has been named the Nestlé Professional Toque d'Or Apprentice 2017 competition winner.
The competition, which was piloted last year and is designed to drive the development and skills of apprentices across the industry, has been developed with partners HIT Training and is open to all hospitality craft apprentices at commis chef level.
Stockwell, 18, came into hospitality while still at school via a part-time job as an assistant butcher in a farm shop. He had a second job at Saracens rugby club in Twickenham, catering for around 200 people in a corporate members' club.
The Nestle Toque d'Or Apprentice Competition was supervised by chair of judges chef Simon Hulstone of the Elephant in Torquay. Stockwell competed against four other apprentices over a three-day period. They were thrown into the deep end on day one with a challenge organised by The Caterer at Billingsgate Seafood Training School. The finalists were taken on a tour of Billingsgate market and quizzed on their seafood species knowledge, then they went straight on to a cooking challenge at the school, with recipes devised by the school's chief executive CJ Jackson and fish supplied by Direct Seafoods.
The second day of the competition took the apprentices to Aveqia in London for a masterclass with Hulstone overseen by judges Paul Mannering, academy principal of HIT Training's Chef Academy, and Mick Burke, fellow of the Master Chefs of Great Britain and previously a hospitality lecturer at Sheffield College.
On their third and final day the finalists teamed up with the Nestlé Professional Toque d'Or student competitors (who were on the first day of their competition) to prepare a gala dinner for 80 guests at Le Cordon Bleu in London.
"Charlie shone from day one," said Hulstone. "He listened to the professionals and supported the other apprentices and student competitors when we brought them together at Le Cordon Bleu, and remained calm throughout the three days of the competition. He stood out as an excellent team member, but he also has excellent knife skills, brilliant taste buds and a quiet confidence."
Mannering added: "During the competition, Simon, Mick and I witnessed some impressive skills from the chefs. They were all under pressure and they mostly maintained their attention to detail and remained calm. The commitment and dedication demonstrated was great to see.
"It's a huge honour to be part of such a professional and prestigious competition for apprentices and future chefs in this industry. For me, it's the perfect platform to promote a career in catering."
The heat finalists submitted their signature dish, which demonstrated "nutrition, health and wellness", and included some prepared Nestlé Professional ingredients. The national heats saw the competitors recreate their signature dish for four covers at Hospitality House, London, for presentation to the judges. Stockwell's dish was his interpretation of a chicken supreme served on a bed of radicchio leaves with pappardelle pasta.
George Vezza, managing director of Nestlé Professional, said: "For the last 29 years we have been supporting young talent on the cusp of their career in hospitality. During this time, our industry has changed dramatically, meaning the skills required to succeed have changed too. Equipping the next generation of chefs and managers with the knowledge and experience they need to shine is precisely what Nestlé Professional Toque d'Or is all about.
"Without a doubt, 2017 has been an exciting year for Nestlé Professional Toque d'Or. We introduced the competition to apprentices, recognising this as a strong alternative route into the industry, while continuing to acknowledge the importance of the formal training provided by catering colleges.
"With the theme 'Good Food, Good Life', participants were challenged to not just cook and serve healthy and delicious food, but also demonstrate business acumen to market their offerings. My congratulations to all participants for all their hard work and dedication, and a huge thank you to our partners for their overwhelming support. We look forward to celebrating the 30th anniversary of Nestlé Professional Toque d'Or next year and hope our customers and partners will join us once again in supporting our future talent."
Stockwell will receive one week's work experience at a high-end restaurant followed by dinner for the apprentice and a guest, plus a voucher to spend on catering equipment at Russums.
The other four apprentices, John Howarth, the Mansion House (CH&Co); Gabriel Florea, Sofitel London Gatwick; Luke Moloney, RMA Sandhurst; and Charlotte Silvester, Ettington Park Hotel, were praised by the judges at the awards presentation this afternoon at the Dorchester hotel, London.
"The standard was very high for our first official Toque d'Or Apprentice Competition," said Hulstone. "And while Charlie is definitely someone who I believe will become an industry leader in a few years, especially with his induction into the industry within the Galvin brother's portfolio, his co-competitors certainly did themselves proud."
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