As you will doubtless know from previous dispatches, Jellybean prides itself on its close working links with The Springboard Charity – an organisation that provides education and support services to young people, the unemployed and disadvantaged groups in society preparing them for work in the hospitality, leisure, travel and tourism industries.
One scheme that has truly blossomed over the past eleven years is Springboard’s FutureChef – a national culinary programme aimed at developing and nurturing 12-16 year olds’ skill and interest in the hospitality industry.
12 young finalists had been whittled down by way of four stages from some 8000 entrants, and were now tasked with doing battle against one and other to impress the panel of esteemed judges. Two courses. Two hours. Set ingredients. Seriously high pressure.
The FutureChef Finals represent the culmination of a long hard year, or, as one of the Springboard team so adroitly put it, “Our end of term celebration” – so it was with no little curiosity and excitement that I beat a path to London’s Westminster Kingsway College to see the 12 young charges do battle.
As the day began, you were invited to watch the young chefs via live link from deep in the heart of the college, faces fixed in concentration, FutureChef Chairman, Brian Turner CBE keeping a watchful eye over each of them, going from station to station, offering words of encouragement where he deemed necessary.
The level of nervousness in the main auditorium was palpable with a good mix of people watching the screens whilst others frequented the break out room where the assembled sponsors engaged the mix of invited guests, interested parties and family members too nervous to watch.
Mid-way through the event, there was a chance to hear from some previous Westminster Kingsway Alumni in the form of a Q&A session.
The assembled crowd heard from two young women, one of whom, Sam Rowles is currently serving an apprenticeship as a pastry chef at Heston Blumenthal’s newly opened ‘Dinner’, the other, Lyndsay Mickie works at Michel Roux Jr’s acclaimed Le Gavroche.
The session served as a reminder not only of the rewards of hard work (both manage to fit work around their studies encompassing weekends and often ridiculously long days) but also of the myriad of opportunities that Springboard can offer young people.
Both extolled the virtues and pitfalls of turning a “hobby into a passion” reserving high praise for the values that their Westminster Kingsway education had instilled in them.
As Judging commenced, small plates of food were brought round by a team of young waiters and waitresses.
Treated to mini scampi and chips, chicken meatballs with almonds and couscous, tempura prawns, mini fish pies and shot glass soup, an extremely contented group took their seats for final words from Brian Turner CBE and Chief Executive of The Springboard Charity, Anne Pierce MBE.
Addressing the nervous looking competitors, Anne hailed the “wonderful achievement” of being selected in the final 12, adding: “You’re all stars in my eyes and a credit to your schools, regions and families – here’s to all your future successes!”
Brian echoed Anne saying: “You represent all that is best about Springboard.”
He then invited special guest Judge Ainsley Harriot to the stage asking him to deliver some words of encouragement before the winner was revealed.
Ainsley talked about his experiences as a young chef before addressing the finalists directly, saying: “You’re all brilliant, you’ve done remarkably well. Whatever the result, keep your focus and who knows what you can achieve.”
With that, the buzz in the room became tangible as the fourth to second place winners were announced. The assembled guests, finalists and their families were now to find out who had been crowned as Springboard’s FutureChef Winner 2011.
When the name of 16 year old Jessica Higgins was called out as the eventual winner, an audible screech went up in the room; everyone seemed genuinely caught up in the moment as the girl from South Bromsgrove High School wept openly in the arms of Ainsley’s great bearhug.
For Jessica, the moniker of Springboard’s FutureChef 2011 and the kudos brought with it will invariably outlast its 12-month term.
Right now, she and her family can enjoy an all expenses trip to Rome, courtesy of Hilton Worldwide whilst her school collects £350, worth of vouchers courtesy of Bunzl Lockhart, yet it is the long term effect of such an accolade – tempered with the right attitude and no small amount of hard graft – that will be causing this young chef to dare to dream of the possibilities that lie ahead.
Fouth Place: Elisha Potter (Westcountry)
Third Place: Ruth Hansom (North East England)
Second Place: Meghan Bell (East Midlands)
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