Getting a foot on the ladder in this Industry isn’t easy. What competitions like Toque d’Or can do is help students take that first step up, and inspire them to go all the way to the top of their game.
Graham Hornigold, Executive Pastry Chef of the world-renowned Hakkasan Group and judge of Nestlé Professional Toque d’Or 2016, sheds light on his own Toque journey - and reveals how it helped pave the way for career success...
In a climate where you can’t move for talk of the skills shortage, there is no doubt that competitions like Toque d’Or are hugely valuable to the industry.
Not only do they encourage and inspire students at the very start of their journey, but they help to hone the skills of the new generation of hospitality talent coming up through the ranks.
Toque d’Or certainly helped give me that all important foot on the ladder. Back in the day, as a student Finalist, I didn’t win the competition, but I did get an invaluable taste of what my future career could be. It helped raise my aspirations and set the bar for where I am today.
An inspirational career
First off, fresh from Toque d’Or, was a ten-year stint under Lisa Crowe at The Lygon Arms in Broadway, before honing my skills under David Nicholls at The Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge. But it was Paul Gaylor who gave me my ‘big break’ as Executive Pastry Chef at the Lanesborough Hotel on Hyde Park Corner at the age of just 28. This is where I really found my forte, developed my personal style and began to build a reputation in the industry.
Today, as Executive Pastry Chef of Hakkasan Group, I work with more than 120 pastry chefs in 20 different kitchens around the world. In this job, I really take pride in being able to influence so many young chefs on a daily basis and seeing those who have left flourish.
Although I am not as hands-on as I used to be, my chefs – some whom have been with me a long time – totally demonstrate the hard work ethic and an understanding of leading by example, as was their training. This is something I took from Toque at the start of my career, and something that still sticks with me today.
Honing the next generation of hospitality talent
That’s why I’m excited to be back at Toque this year as a Judge, engaging with young people just starting out on the culinary journey. In some ways, things have changed a lot since I was in their shoes, certainly in terms of kitchen culture: I think it’s a bit less brutal nowadays, with fewer temperamental chefs and a lot less shouting! Equally, I’d say that trainee chefs do need to accept from day one that this job is not going to be a picnic; it’s hard work in a professional kitchen. As a pastry chef, I was always the first one in and the last one to leave – but learning and consolidating at every stage certainly worked out for me and has given me a great life, doing a job I am wholly passionate about.
As a Toque d’Or Judge, I led a dessert masterclass at the heats, in which the students were tasked with delivering and serving to guests as part of a special three-course meal. This is what is so unique about the competition – it forces students to consider the bigger picture; not only the cooking but all the ancillary elements like ordering, budgeting and time management. Essentially, it takes them out of their comfort zone and forces them to think like a professional chef.
To really stand out, students have to be ahead of the game. By this, I mean showing that they are aware of current Industry hot topics, such as sustainable and seasonal purchasing, or the health and wellbeing debate, but in a way that doesn’t compromise taste!
Taking all this on board, there is no doubt that the 2016 contest is going to challenge the students in a way they may never have been challenged before, and will push them to work hard and allow their passion for food to really shine.
For me, being part of Toque was an incredible experience, and one that helped get me get to where I am today. Regardless of who leaves as winners, the students taking part in this year’s competition can walk away knowing they have been part of something great.