The UK’s hospitality industry is in the grip of a recruitment crisis with steady growth in dining out threatening to be derailed by a skills shortage both front and back of house.
The hours are long and the starting salaries in catering aren’t great. Having picked up the grand sum of £5,000 a year as a trainee journalist, I can sympathise.
The hospitality press and the mainstream media are full of dire predictions about the sector’s future and it is difficult to see how Brexit is going to help the situation. Migrant workers are the backbone of many restaurants, hotel outlets, cafés and other informal dining spots. Pulling up the draw bridge on hard-working and much-needed staff is plain daft.
Searching for an antidote to the gloom, I was delighted to accept an invitation to the final of the Nestlé Professional Toque d’Or, the nation’s top student culinary and restaurant service award. The gala lunch was held at The Dorchester in London on the morning of the Brexit result. Lots of hospitality professionals were drinking lots of Champagne very quickly at the reception so it seemed only right to show solidarity.
I was thrilled when the team from University College Birmingham (UCB) were unveiled as the winners. Through my connections with UCB, and its illustrious College of Food, I have followed the progress of two of the team, Megan Lyke and Jack Gameson, and was unsurprised to find the final member of the trio, Katie Lewis, abuzz with her teammates talent and enthusiasm.
This year’s Toque d’Or saw a record number of entries – some 156 teams representing 68 colleges – which flies in the face of the depressing forecasts about the future of the hospitality industry. The competition’s gruelling series of challenges, based on the theme of nutrition, health and wellness, included creating and serving a three-course menu at a fine dining event for 48 VIP guests; covering a lunch and dinner service at Bill’s Restaurants across London; and taking part in nutrition and dessert master classes.
Megan, Katie and Jack follow in the footsteps of illustrious Toque d’Or alumni including legendary chef and restaurateur Anton Mosimann, who presented the winner’s trophy.
Chairman of the judges and chef James Tanner highlighted the importance of the competition in nurturing skills and inspiring the next wave of industry professionals.
Tanner said: “I have been completely bowled over by the passion, commitment and sheer talent that has shone through at every stage of the competition. It has been truly awe-inspiring.”
Both Megan and Katie, both aged 23, have just completed their Culinary Arts Management (CAM) degrees at UCB, both gaining Firsts. They have already secured jobs in food product development. Jack, 20, is due to start the third year of his CAM course in September.
Neil Rippington, Dean of the College of Food and one of the team mentors, said: “It is a fantastic achievement to win the Toque d’Or. It means our students are performing at the very highest level. It takes unflagging commitment to win a competition of this stature, which tests so many skills in the culinary arts and restaurant service.”
It has been an amazing year for the College of Food, which is celebrating a record year of achievement in national and international competitions for the academic year 2015-16. Young chefs, bakers and front of house trainees have shone under the spotlight, picking up a total of 136 individual awards as well as representing Britain at the highest levels.
- Richard McComb travelled from Snow Hill, Birmingham to Marylebone, London with Chiltern Railways. For details of tickets and promotions, go to: chilternrailways.co.uk