The Craft Guild of Chefs Graduate Awards were founded in 2002 by Vice-President, Steve Munkley, who saw a real need in the industry for providing formal recognition of young chefs’ culinary excellence.
It is an examination created to test and improve the skills which chefs have learnt at college and in their early careers, and take them to the next level. Chefs have to go through a tough entry process including a paper entry, heats and then final examination. This includes a theory paper, butchery and fishmongery tasks as well as creating a ‘mystery basket’ dish, classic main course and a dessert that will really impress the panel of culinary experts.
In 2016 the Graduate Awards launched the Pastry Graduate Award. Entrants need to send in a paper entry and those selected for the next round will complete a short multiple choice theory test and be assessed when completing a series of skills tasks. In the final exam, young chefs will also be asked to create a dessert using a mystery basket of ingredients, as well as serving up their own interpretation of a classic dessert.
Steve Munkley, founder and organiser of the Graduate Awards said “I’ve been thinking about creating a Pastry Award for some time as it’s an area which is often talked about in terms of a shortage of skills and new chefs. The Guild is constantly looking for ways to entice young people to be part of our industry and showcase the talent that’s out there so it’s important that we give them opportunities to shine like this. I’m looking forward to the final exam already and unveiling the first ever Pastry Graduate.”
Former National Chef of the Year and head chef at Collettes Restaurant, Russell Bateman has taken over the reins as Chair of Examiners and is on the lookout for some of the UK's youngest talent.
Talking about his role, Russell said: "Being asked to be the Chair of Examiners was a proud moment for me. We hear so much about lack of skills or a shortage of chefs coming through colleges but I believe the Graduate Awards provide an opportunity to really improve skills. The awards also show young people there are real opportunities for those who choose being a chef as a career choice. My plea to head chefs around the UK is to encourage young chefs to enter as whatever level they achieve, a huge amount is gained from the experience."
Five previous graduates have come together to give their expert tips to entrants:
“I feel very privileged to be one of only 48 graduates since the awards started. The awards saw me progress to do other competitions such as Young National Chef of the Year and also gave me confidence. My main advice is to practice. Practice in unfamiliar ovens and work areas so you're prepared for anything. For the mystery element try getting your mentor to give you tasks from a random selection of ingredients to get you used to creating dishes on the spot.” Ruth Hansom, The Ritz
“My advice would be to enjoy the experience, make friends and work hard for it. There is nothing worse than going into a competition stressed and it will affect the food you serve. I feel there is a lesson to be learned from everyone you work with, just remember to be like a sponge and accept all information and help from anyone who is willing to give their time to assist you.” Connor Godfrey, Junior Sous Chef, The Royal Garden Hotel
“Having won both the Graduate Award and the Mentor Award my main bit of advice would be to really dedicate time to the award. You can never practice enough but keep it simple and concentrate on the basics - hot plates, seasoning, hot food and good balance of flavour. The award is a fantastic stepping stone for any chef to spring board their career, not only with work placements but also networking within the industry. I would highly recommend it!” Nick Sinclair, Executive Chef, Burford Bridge Hotel & Emlyn Restaurant
“My advice to young chefs looking to enter is know your task and what you need to be doing each and every moment. It’s not about showing off or trying something off the wall. It’s about showing you know how to work with food and get the best out of amazing produce.” Anton Scoones, Commercial Development Head Chef, Leeds City College