Andy Stacey, Chairman of Judges for Nestlé Professional Toque d’Or 2016 and ex-lecturer to two winning teams, tells his very own ‘Toque’ story, and explores how this highly emotive and unique competition is motivating the next generation of hospitality talent for the ‘kitchens of the future’...
There’s no doubt that Toque d’Or is a fantastic competition. But much more than this, it’s also a life-changing experience that I will never forget, and one that will always remain a very positive and happy part of my professional life.
Keen to use my experience to inspire students to go above and beyond what they learn in the classroom, I first got involved with Toque as a lecturer at Carlisle College, fresh from the Michelin-starred kitchens of Café de Paris in Biarritz and Relais & Châteaux Hotels.
Motivating the next generation
Growing up in the kitchens around Europe, the people who motivated me in the early stages made a big difference to my career. That kind of motivation never leaves you and I know first-hand what a difference it makes.
Although the catering industry has a lot of what you’d call ‘firm’ chefs, I’m a strong believer that being polite and encouraging goes a long way. It’s about getting students on board and opening their minds to learning.
Sometimes, in a small college, students don’t have much opportunity to see what goes on in the ‘real world.’ Competing in Toque opens their eyes to the challenges and opportunities ahead, inspires them and, ultimately, motivates them to be successful.
However, Toque isn’t just motivating for students. It’s incredibly inspiring for lecturers too. When you’re sitting with your team on the Awards Night and know you’ve got to the Final, you couldn’t be prouder. You’ve seen the potential in them, and they’re the ones that will go the distance. At that moment, you realise all the hard work was worth it.
And every single person who goes through the Toque’ experience comes out with an incredible appreciation of the value of teamwork, and a renewed enthusiasm. At the end of the day, a willingness to do well goes a long way in this industry.
Tackling the skills shortage
As a judge sitting on ‘the other side’ of the fence, I am bowled over with the standard of the students involved. In my opinion, the talent out there is immense.
Youth employment is a big issue affecting our Industry. And Toque is making great strides here. In the last few years, we have seen more and more employers realise the advantages of employing a Toque candidate. It’s fair to say that industry professionals take note when they see a Toque Winner or Finalist on a CV. Toque opens doors.
The hands-on experience it offers the next generation of both chefs and front of house staff is invaluable. Toque students are encouraged to dive straight in at the deep-end, taking on all kinds of different ‘real life’ challenges, and these opportunities are like gold dust. The teams we saw last year really thought on their feet, and would’ve done well in any professional kitchen.
Forging futures...the ‘kitchen of the future’
The students who take part in Toque come from all kinds of backgrounds, and some may have never worked in a big kitchen before. From day one they learn to deal with pressure, and that’s important.
The impact Toque can have on students’ careers is far-reaching. I’ve seen many go on to own their own businesses, travel the world and become head chefs. The wide range of challenges set throughout are designed to show their strengths and weaknesses and test them to the limits.
Over the years, Toque has evolved to become so much more than just a cookery competition. Yes, it’s about serving amazing food and providing top-notch service, but, crucially, it also opens students’ eyes to the issues affecting kitchens in our industry today and in the future. This year is all about nutrition, health and wellness. Last year was about food waste and provenance. The students take all these things on board, and use it to forge their future careers.
My advice to young people out there who are embarking on the Toque process would be to work as a team. This is crucial. Listen carefully to what’s said, and plan...timing is key.
Also, remember to enjoy it! Yes it’s a competition, but it’s also an experience you will never forget.
Whenever I speak to a student who has been involved with Toque, a big smile comes across their face. It never ceases to amaze me. At the end of the day, this is what makes the competition so special.