Since winning the competition, my career has gone from strength to strength; Toque d’Or really does open doors. Taking part is the difference between someone who is hungry to succeed and someone who isn’t. Now I’m an employer, I understand the challenge the industry faces in recruiting chefs and Toque d’Or is a great way to find staff who really want to drive themselves – and your business – so much further. I’ve employed a former contestant myself and wouldn’t hesitate to do so again.
James Hill, past Toque d’Or winner, who now runs successful hospitality businesses...
When I entered Toque d’Or in 2004, I was studying at Carlisle College and had no idea the effect it would have on me as a person, as well as on my career. We won the competition, which was an incredibly proud moment; to gain national recognition from the judges helped me realise I was doing something I was actually good at and gave me a real boost of confidence. Twelve years on it still inspires me. Running your own business isn’t without mistakes, and when I hit bumps in the road my Toque experience keeps me motivated to continue driving forward.
A foot in the door
One of the major benefits of Toque is that it lets students see what the industry is really like. Not only was I inspired by meeting greats such as Anton Mosimann and James Martin (who were both heroes of mine) – it really took me out of the comfort zone of college into the real world.
Having said that, it’s not all about the glamorous end of the industry. Toque d’Or is a diverse competition and the chefs that come through go on to work everywhere from contract caterers and gastropubs to five-star restaurants and hotels. It’s not elitist; it’s for anyone who is hungry to learn and grow.
Regardless of where in the sector they choose to work, taking part in competitions like this really gives students an edge when it comes to finding employment. In fact, I’ve employed a former Toque student myself and wouldn’t hesitate to do so again. For me, taking part in competitions such as Toque demonstrates ambition and drive, as well as a passion to succeed – all the key ingredients of someone you want on your team.
Life after Toque d’Or
My own career has been based around my hometown of Carlisle, where just three years after winning the competition, I opened Bijou, a 22-seat venue. I soon expanded this into a 44-seat venue, later renamed as No.34, and have opened two more venues since – the casual dining concept Quarter Lounge and Deli 34. It’s certainly been an exciting (and challenging) few years!
My relationship with Toque is still very much alive – I’ve been a regional judge, a guest at the 21st anniversary dinner and often get interviewed about my experience in the press. Without the competition, I wouldn’t have had any of these amazing experiences.
And when I had the chance to judge, I was proud to get that respect from students who looked at me and knew they could achieve what I have.
That’s something I would really encourage students taking part to do – really maximise the opportunity (and not just when you’re in the competition). Make the most of the resources available; keep in touch with the team and judges if you can, seize media opportunities and take advantage of judging roles or mentoring positions which come your way. The legacy of Toque can play a role in your career for many years afterwards. I love being part of the Toque family.