Five determined chefs achieve the Graduate Award, despite the pandemic

At the end of what has been a long and difficult year for the industry, five talented and ambitious young chefs have impressed the judges and achieved the prestigious Graduate Award. The final took place in a socially distanced exam at the University of West London on Tuesday, 8th December, with the awards announcement happening virtually this afternoon (17th December).

In the Kitchen and Larder exam, Robert McCreeryBreen, Connor Anthony Bird and Stephen Mark Naylor all achieved the pass mark. Whilst in the Pastry exam, Lillian Savage and Ranna Ameer made the grade. Pastry examiners couldn’t split the scores of the chefs’ marks so both achieved the much sought-after Highest Achiever Award. Stephen Naylor was awarded this title in the Kitchen exam and looks forward to his prizes and the chance to be part of The Young National Chef of the Year competition in 2021.

For the Kitchen and Larder final exam, the chefs had to complete several tasks which included a paper test and butchery and fishmongery challenges. Each chef was also given a mystery basket of ingredients inspired by Chair of Examiners, Russell Bateman and from this they had to create and serve up a dish of their own. House of Commons pastry chef, Andrew Ditchfield created a dairy free and vegetarian dessert which the finalists had to copy. The classic element of the exam was Delice of Sole Veronique, a dish the finalists would have completed at college but to score well the glazing of the fish had to be perfect.

In the Pastry exam, chefs had five and a half hours to complete a series of dishes set by Will Torrent. This had a festive feel as it included making a celebration cake with the words ‘Happy Christmas’ written on, festive cupcakes, William Curley’s Chocolate Mont Blanc and fudge and macaroons. As well as the presentation and taste of the dishes, chefs were also scored on health, safety, and wastage. Each finalist had to bring a portfolio of their work with them including recipes and their reasoning for their choices of flavours and textures.

Steve Munkley, organiser of the Graduate Awards and Vice President of the Craft Guild of Chefs said: “Getting to this stage hasn’t been easy and we’ve had to adapt and change the event throughout the last ten months. There have been moments when we’ve considered postponing, as COVID-19 kept throwing challenges our way, but at the end of the final exam, I 100% knew I had made the right decision. The finalists all talked about how much this event had helped them during this awful year as it has given them hope, a focus and something to work towards. Every single finalist worked so hard and you could see how much it meant to them on the day. Even though we haven’t had the opportunity to meet up as much as normal in these awards, everyone gelled in the build-up and at the final. Bringing together candidates, mentors, examiners and organisers is such an important part of the Graduate Awards as regardless of age or seniority, all chefs are like-minded and can support each other in different ways. A huge thank you must go out to the University of West London for hosting this final and keeping everyone so safe on the day.”

Will Torrent, Chair of Pastry Examiners added: “There were some really delicious, beautiful and creative dishes served up to the examiners this year. However, when it came to who should take that top spot, we just couldn’t separate them. Both Lillian and Ranna should feel so proud of what they have achieved. To put yourself forward for a difficult event like this, especially in the face of adversity, shows real grit and determination; skills you need to get to the top in this field. It’s been great to see the Graduate Awards continue despite the challenges the pandemic has created and I’ve been proud to play my part in making that happen.”

For those who missed today’s announcement, the video is available to watch on the Craft Guild of Chefs’ website.

The Graduate Awards will be back in 2021 and the Guild is already taking names and email addresses for those who would like to be notified when entries open. Email your contact details to enquiries@craftguildofchefs.org. Look out for announcements on the Craft Guild of Chefs social media channels including @CraftGuild on Twitter and @CraftGuildofChefs on Instagram.

The Graduate Awards 2020 were sponsored by The London Meat Co, Oranka, Savoy Education Trust, Reynolds, Quorn, Meiko UK, Essential Cuisine, City and Guilds, Robert Welch, Villeroy and Boch, CCS, Mars Foods, James Knight of Mayfair, Robot Coupe, Cobra Beer, Pan Artisan, Crosbys and UWL.