Nestlé's 25th anniversary Toque D'Or grand finals

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th May 2013
The grand finals of Nestlé’s 2013 Toque D’Or competition for catering students took place over the weekend with representatives from eight colleges across the UK and Northern Ireland competing over four days of hospitality-related challenges. The Staff Canteen was invited along for the first day of the finals where competitors would take part in a surprise challenge to create pub-style desserts. “Welcome to the grand finals of the Nestlé Toque D’Or 2013. It’s the 25th anniversary of the competition, so no pressure.” These were the opening words of Nestlé Professional activation manager, Martin Webster, to the eight teams of students assembled in Nestlé’s Rashleighs Business Centre, set in an elegant Georgian mansion in the Berkshire countryside. His words were met with nervous laughter and strained faces, a reminder perhaps of just how young some of these trainee chefs and front of house staff were. If it wasn’t enough of a reminder the rest of Martin’s welcoming speech certainly was – no alcohol in the bedrooms during their three night stay, no smoking in the rooms, and each student would have access to a ‘buddy’ who they could talk to if they had any problems or concerns over the weekend. One of the buddies was called ‘Aunty Jean’. The eight teams of two students (one kitchen and one front of house) represented catering colleges from around the country, from Liverpool Community College to the College of West Anglia; from City of Glasgow College to South West College in Northern Ireland. They had been battling through heats up and down the country since January. Now they were facing the final hurdle – four days of hospitality-related challenges, all of which would be surprises. The first morning’s challenge was entitled ‘A Sweet Touch’ and involved creating a gastro pub-style dessert using at least one Nestlé Docello product, at least one Movenpick ice cream product and a limited range of ingredients from the larder. Movenpick development chef and judge Tim Futter said: “We’re looking for innovative ways of using the product. It has to fit the brief of a gastro pub dish so it doesn’t need to be massively complex but should include nice garnishes and innovative presentation.” A big theme of this year’s Toque D’Or is to sow the seed in students’ minds that fine dining isn’t the be all and end all of a career in the catering industry. Hence the pub dessert challenge and hence the presence of a judge from a contract catering firm – Alison Gilbert, human resources director for CH&Co. Alison said: “I think the colleges gear them up for the fine dining sector of the industry and the contract catering sector gets forgotten about, but it has some amazing opportunities and you can still deliver fine dining style food within a contract catering environment.” To illustrate her point, CH&Co are providing all the finalists with a week’s paid work experience at their company. It’s not the only prize on offer. The winners of the grand final will win work experience with Anton Mosimann OBE. They can also bask in the knowledge that they are in prestigious company - previous contenders have included James Martin and Jamie Oliver. Would their desserts be something that Mosimann or James Martin would approve of? The hour and ten minutes of cooking time was up and the dishes were plated and presented. Presentation-wise they certainly looked impressive. There was a nice seasonal take on rhubarb and custard, an interesting use of ingredients in a raspberry and basil panna cotta and some creative presentation with a milk chocolate ice cream and pistachio rondelle served in the form of a lollipop. The judges walked around with clipboards and spoons and muttered cheffy things to each other while the teams waited nervously in an adjoining room. The head of the judges was James Tanner, TV chef and co-owner, with brother Chris, of Tanners Restaurant in Plymouth. He seemed pleased with the overall standard saying: “For these guys this is a completely foreign environment with foreign products. I think the ideas they have come up with are good. They had criteria to stick to, which most of them have. It’s a good start but now I think they realise it’s not going to be easy.” This may have been the case but the morning’s nerves also seemed to have died down now that the first challenge was over. Nichola Harrison and Alexandra Spatar of the Blackpool and the Fylde College team said: “When we first got the brief, our minds went dead but then we put our heads together and thought – yeah that should work. It feels amazing. We’re still a bit shocked to get this far, but proud.” The better part of four days worth of challenges still lay ahead of the students; challenges that would test their all-round professional skills: from interview techniques later that day to recreating a full Alan Murchison L’Ortolan menu on day two; from a Dragons Den style presentation for a contract catering business on day three to catering for the EUROLEAGUE 2013 Basketball finals in the O2 Arena on day four – all of which were as yet unknown to the competitors. All in all a pretty magical few days for a group of students taking their first steps in the industry. As Ed Marsh and Lydia Taylor of the University College Birmingham team said: “It’s unreal, at the start of your career to be able to say you’ve competed at the final of the Toque D’Or; you’re bound to get somewhere.” A sentiment that Anton Mosimann, James Martin and Jamie Oliver would all, no doubt, agree with. The winners of the Toque D’Or 25th anniversary competition will be announced at a special awards dinner at The Dorchester on June 4th.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th May 2013

Nestlé's 25th anniversary Toque D'Or grand finals