1. What is your involvement in Toque d’Or?
I am a previous winner! I won the competition with my colleagues from Carlisle College back in 2008. The, in 2017 I was part of the judging team for the National Heats, which I enjoyed immensely.
2. You competed in Toque d’Or in 2008, tell us about your experience.
It was such a great experience, from start to finish, the competition completely opened my eyes to the industry. Every challenge, from the heats through to the final was challenging and exciting and I loved every minute of it. It gave me great confidence and ignited a passion in hospitality that is still as strong now as it was after winning. The competition and the after effects of winning have definitely shaped me personally as well as my career.
3. What are your fondest memories of participating in the competition?
There are so many. The buzz of competing in itself was amazing. Rising to each challenge, knowing that we’d given it our all. It was great to meet everyone that was part of the competition too. Hearing our name being read out at The Dorchester….the list could go on!
4. What has been your journey since winning Toque d’Or?
My career had to take a back seat after winning the competition. Family has always been my priority and I channelled all of my energy in to caring for those that needed it. I missed the cooking though and had to find a way to continue my passion for feeding people! I set up a home restaurant, which meant that I could still care for my loved ones and fuel my desire to cook for guests at the same time. My weekly supper club is now booked up 10 months in advance.
I am also an Instagrammer; my feed mostly being made up of my pastry creations.
5. Tell us about your new book, how did it come about?
It all stemmed from Instagram. When I was caring for my mum, I first started posting pictures of us baking together. I found that baking really relieved her symptoms and it was very therapeutic for both of us. When mum was taken in to care I continued baking and posting my pictures and soon gained a loyal and dedicated following. One of these followers was a book commissioner. And so the book happened!
6. In 2017 you came back to Toque d’Or as a National Heats Judge. What was it like being on the other side of the competition?
It was such a great experience being on the other side. I knew how everyone was feeling and what the competitors were going through; the nerves, the apprehension. I really wanted to make them all feel at ease and give everyone a nudge of encouragement, let them know that they were all doing an amazing job. It was very exciting to see the students shine and push themselves to their maximum and truly enjoy what they were doing when they had relaxed a little. Seeing their confidence grow and being witness to their sheer elation after the challenge was over was fantastic.
7. As a judge what were you looking for in competitors?
Passion and the desire to do the very best that they could. Team work and enjoyment in what they were doing. Tasting and seasoning everything properly. There are other things that are essential to work well as a chef within the industry, cleanliness while working, nice presentation, knowledge, but these can come with practice. Passion and having a good palette are essential from the word go.
8. In what ways had your experience prepared you for your current career path?
At the awards ceremony back in 2008 I was asked “How does winning the Toque D’or make you feel” … “Well, it makes me feel like I can do anything” I replied. It did, it gave me great confidence to go into the industry knowing that my abilities within the hospitality sector had been recognised.
I have met some great friends and worked alongside some amazing people throughout the industry since winning in 2008, from chefs to food photographers, managers to designers. What’s funny is how many of these people are connected the world over and it is also surprising how many are interlinked through this competition.
9. How important are competitions like this to help develop the next generation of industry talent?
They are very important indeed, it allows students to experience something exhilarating and gain experience in a pressured environment. This ignites passion and the competitors will go away, whether victorious or not, wanting more and to strive to do their best…
10. What advice would you give to someone who is entering the competition?
To throw themselves in to the whole experience without doubting themselves; self-belief and passion will make them shine. Strive to do the very best that you can, always.
Julie’s book is due to be published on 21 September 2017 in both the UK and US. You can follow her on Instagram @julie_jonesuk