For Jess Thorne, Sous-Chef de Cuisine at the award winning Michelin star Masons Arms pub in Devon and Toque d’Or finalist in 2008, the importance of initiatives like Toque d’Or to nurturing and promoting future industry talent cannot be underestimated:
Obviously when you enter a competition you want to win; that’s a given. But it’s only once you have been through a competition like Toque d’Or that you realise how much you gain even if you don’t get the blue ribbon. Not winning certainly didn’t change how much I have taken from my experience.
The thing about Toque d’Or was that it was treated as much more than a competition by everyone involved; skills development played a significant part in every single element. Every competitor had the opportunity to grow as a chef or waiter, and perhaps the most important part of the experience for us all was the confidence it instilled. Taking part I felt like I knew exactly what I was doing and as a result my performance improved – it’s the opposite of a catch 22 situation!
It’s been a few years since I left college now, and years later I still find myself thinking about Toque d’Or and the lessons I learnt, especially when we have a busy service. During our Toque d’Or finals we had to serve 100 paying customers – a daunting challenge at the time – but the opportunity to independently work in a busy kitchen and have to solve problems as they arose will stand me in good stead for my entire career.
In my opinion competitions like Toque d’Or play an ever-more vital role in the industry; as resources for catering colleges grow scarcer its big business initiatives like this that help to attract young talent and keep the industry fresh and innovative.