A closer look at The Culinary Ability Awards

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 22nd June 2015
With Channel 4 and Michel Roux Jr commissioning a new TV programme called ‘The Diner’, set to follow a group of people with a range of disabilities or long-term conditions as they aim to find careers in the hospitality industry, we take a look at The Culinary Ability Awards and their work to showcase the abilities of disabled individuals in the industry. Chef Chris SandfordThe Culinary Ability Awards is a competition for trainee level hospitality workers with a variety of disabilities, focusing on their abilities within the industry. The awards were founded in 2005 by Chris Sandford. Chris said: “It’s a much needed resource and it’s proven to be an untapped market. I saw it as an opportunity for not only the competitors to gain personal experience and build their confidence but for employers to see what can be done and how these talented individuals can support their operations. “9 out of 10 contenders end up in full time employment, when it goes to past winners the success stories go on and on.” For the first five years the awards were part of Catex in Dublin, and the reputation of the competition grew to the point that they were asked to compete in the Ifex Belfast ‘Parade des Chefs’, where the team won a gold medal for their ‘standards of excellence and hygiene’. In 2011 a documentary was produced which followed the events of the awards. Chris and the awards team held their first awareness event at Smuggler’s Creek restaurant in County Donegal in 2013. This year will see the team return to Smuggler’s Creek for the third year. In the same year the team held a raising awareness event at Moat Theatre in County Kildare with their ’12 dishes of Christmas’, each dish having been cooked by an aspiring chef from various health care providers. Chris said of their raising awareness events: “Smuggler’s Creek really enjoy getting involved in supporting us which is great. This year we are also going to be doing one at the Glasgow City Hotel. They’re going to be producing some great food and we will be having a great evening raising awareness for our much needed vision.” The awards keep going from strength to strength, with the awards being held at Hotelympia London last year, and the winner, Michael Auld, received a scholarship with Anton Mosimann OBE.resizedEmily_Culinary Ability Award Fundrasing at Smugglers Creek 2014 Every year the challenges within the competition vary, and this year because of time constraints instead of a live cooking area there was the ‘Great Culinary Bake Off’, where contestants had 40 minutes to decorate a cake they had made the day before. Joe Deery, who won silver at the award this year, is visually impaired and learnt the basics of cooking at the school for the blind that he attended in Dublin. He then realised that he enjoyed cooking and developed his skills from there. He now cooks regularly as a hobby. Joe said: “I really enjoyed the competition, I think it is important because employers are realising that people with disabilities can do things and can do them very well, provided they have a good basis and good training.” Chris and the team are currently in the process of concluding a European recognised qualification for people with disabilities, working with other countries to make the qualification of Assistant Chef a reality. The team’s project Zero Barriers tries to eliminate the barriers that keep people with disabilities from working in the hospitality industry. Another project in the works is FoodCom, which has created 280 signs specifically developed to communicate in the kitchen, overcoming all kinds of language barriers. Chris explained: “The qualification and other projects will identify that this is achievable and can be done. Our goal is to open up a training centre and restaurant acting as training providers specialising in training people with disabilities.” Sarah WeirIn order to showcase the talent of the competitors, the Culinary Ability Awards is not adapted for those competing each year. Chris said: “We have to keep it a professional competition and that’s what they have to work with. In many cases organisations run internal competitions to work out who might be best suited and who has the passion to move forward and have a career in our industry.” One organisation which supports the awards is NUA Healthcare, a residential and day-care service to provide services to individuals with disabilities. Scott O’Reilly, a community outreach manager for NUA Healthcare, said of the awards: “I’ve been in this game nearly ten years but there’s nowhere else that offers the kind of opportunities the Culinary Ability Awards can give to people with disabilities. The Culinary Ability Awards sees the ability in disability.” NUA encourage their service users to get involved with things they are passionate about, and they regularly have service users participate in the events the awards team hosts. Their involvement in the awards started when Scott met Chris at the same time that one of their service users was expressing an interest in cooking. Since his involvement in the competition, the service user has moved out of the NUA home he was living in and is working in a restaurant. Scott said: “That was a really good success story for us. We’ve had a couple others since then who’ve followed the same path. “The awards are helping shift attitudes and break down stereotypes, showing that people with disabilities have abilities.” By Samantha Wright

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 22nd June 2015

A closer look at The Culinary Ability Awards