David Atkinson, Executive Chef at the Michelin starred Pennyhill Park Hotel & Spa in Surrey and judge for Nestlé Professional Toque d’Or 2016, casts his expert eye over this year’s competition, and reveals why he thinks it stands head and shoulders above the rest...
More than just a pretty plate
This is the first year I’ve been involved with Toque d’Or and instantly I could see that it’s no ordinary competition. It’s about so much more than serving up a pretty plate. This is about introducing the next generation of young chefs and managers to life in a professional kitchen. It’s about cooking and serving, planning and budgeting. In a nutshell, it’s what we do every day in the Industry.
With Toque, the opportunities are there for the taking. We’ve travelled all over the country to find the best talent, and the talented youngsters I’ve seen come through the heats have shown an incredible amount of determination. Those who want to do well, who listen to everything they are shown, and who absorb all the opportunities thrown at them, have a potential great career at their fingertips.
There is no doubt that Toque is a fantastic springboard for talent. I would happily give a job to a number of the students I have seen during the course of the competition. I actually gave my business card out to one or two. This is what it’s all about – making great contacts and creating amazing opportunities.
Setting the standard
Some students may walk in thinking it will be as it seems on TV... it’s not. Toque isn’t about sitting in a classroom waiting for something to happen, this is about first-hand experience, learning on the job and feeling the pressure.
During the course of the competition, students get to work with some amazing professional chefs, see the standard that is expected of them in the Industry, and deliver. This is great practical experience and preparation for the real world.
Skills, skills, skills
There is a lot of talk about skills in the industry at the moment... How to inject skills and talent into our workforce. And this is something Toque offers in spades.
However, talent can’t get you all the way. It’s also about sheer hard work and determination. If I were to give some top tips to students embarking on Toque next year it would be to pay attention at the masterclasses and absorb everything you can, advice is like gold dust in this industry. Planning is important too... Take time to clean your benches, to plan your menu and prep your ingredients. Timing is also vital... Work fast for the first half hour, you can’t imagine how useful this is. And finally, don’t forget seasoning! Getting your seasoning right can make or break a dish.