As a leading food and drink agency with over 35 years working with chefs us beans are used to working closely with chefs. Indeed, over this past month I was incredibly lucky to spend time in the company of many brilliant chefs. Chefs of all ages and levels, they had either shined at the Salon Culinaire, Zest Quest Asia, or were in training to compete at the highest level – representing England at the World Culinary Olympics this November.
During this time, I spoke to them and their mentors about what had driven them to enter in the first place. What training means, and the positive impact this has on them as individuals and their career. What struck me is that for the majority it’s about more than just winning. The prize is a wonderful thing to have, but what they gain in confidence and skills is far more valuable – in the words of the great Chef, Cyrus Todiwala OBE, DL “Competing is only the beginning”.
For many it was the chance to prove to themselves they could do it. An opportunity to step outside of their comfort zone – if you don’t try how can you ever grow? Even though some admitted it was terrifying at the time, all the chefs agreed that they were glad they did it – the buzz was indescribable. Of the younger chefs I spoke to who were still in or just finishing college, the confidence gained from competing had given them the self-belief to try new things. Both professionally and personally, either applying for a job they wouldn’t have done otherwise (and getting it!) or wanting to travel and learn about local culture and cuisine. Others felt empowered to push themselves and enter more competition, to go one better than what they had and perfect their art.
Speaking to the college lecturers who are so committed to mentoring their students opened my eyes to just how much work goes into preparing for a competition. Cooking under pressure is a key skill but so is planning, understanding a brief, the ability to present your ideas, time management, teamwork and above all commitment to hard work until you get that menu perfect. All essential life skills young people need as they start their career paths.
With so many benefits and positive conversations around competitions, I gained an insight into what drives culinary colleges, operators and individual chefs to enter and why they’re so important. After years of looking at competitions from the sponsor’s viewpoint, I understand for the first time why Cyrus, Steve Munkley, Peter Griffiths, Murray Chapman and Paul Dickinson, as well as the army of people who help to organise these competitions (you know who you are) are so fiercely passionate about keeping them going – especially in these challenging times.
Budgets are limited. And sadly competing isn’t just about having the best menu. Travel and accommodation need to be factored in; equipment organised, and team jackets prepared even. In some countries national teams are actually paid to train full time – I know this through the World Chocolate Masters and Culinary World Cup. While many chefs juggle a 70-hour week, train on a weekend or after service and amazingly smash it on competition day.
Now more than ever, it’s important we remember the positive impact brands can have by supporting and donating what they can. Be it their local culinary college, Zest Quest Asia, Craft Guild of Chefs or British Culinary Federation. No matter how small the sponsorship or insignificant you feel your product donation will have, that contribution will have a much greater and positive impact on chefs long into the future after the event is over. Not only that, chefs remember the brands that support them. Something brands shouldn’t forget.
If you’re curious about sponsoring in 2023 here are some organisations, you may wish to consider:
Zest Quest Asia – zestquestasia.org/
Passion to Inspire – www.apassiontoinspire.co.uk/
National Chef of the Year – nationalchefoftheyear.co.uk/live/en/page/home
International Salon Culinaire internationalsalonculinaire.co.uk/?lang=fr
British Culinary Federation – www.britishculinaryfederation.com/
The 20th October is International Chefs Day – a day dedicated to the people committed to making our industry so great. Here’s to all the competing chefs who push themselves, associations that run amazing chef competitions and the brands that make that possible. Long may we see these competitions nurture talent and drive chefs to be the very best they can be.