Cambridge Regional College claim the title of ‘A Passion to Inspire’ winners 2016

The heat was most certainly on in the training kitchens at the College of West Anglia on Tuesday 7 June , as catering and hospitality teams from the College of West Anglia, West Suffolk College, Cambridge Regional College, Colchester Institute and City College Norwich competed for the title of ‘A Passion to Inspire’ winners, 2016.

After a tough competition, it was announced that Cambridge Regional College – made up of chefs Gemma Steele and Alice Clayden and front of house Mathew Dawson – were named the winners.

The Merit Winners were City College Norwich, who received £25 Russums Voucher for each team member from Clare Bullen of Anglian Free Range Eggs.

The heats and final of ‘A Passion to Inspire’ stand out from other hospitality and catering skills competitions because of their focus on every aspect of the process, from students’ knowledge of produce, to designing and costing their menus, and exceptional front of house presentation and service of food and drink. The competition also seeks to bring added benefits to the participating students and colleges by creating new links between professional chefs, suppliers of local produce , Partners and further education – and giving the chance for all students to have a go and be inspired.

To reach the final, the teams of three students from each of the five colleges had to come through an earlier round of heats, with over 90 students being involved and inspired. The student teams were each made up of two chefs and one front of house member. Prior to the final, each student team was paired with a top local chef as their mentor for the final.

A Passion to Inspire is designed to create strong links between cookery schools and local employers. Richard Russum, who sponsors the chef jackets and uniform, said: “This is one of the few competitions that mixes students with mentoring and the industry. It really drives up the standards and really showcases what the college can put out there.”

This is the second year in which the College of West Anglia has been involved with the competition and this year they played host. Representing the College of West Anglia was level 3 catering trio, Danielle Joseph (18), Jamie-Leigh Arlott (19) and Casey Ford (19). They gained their place after winning the local heat on Monday 22 February.

The teams prepared a three course meal, to be served by a front of house team member with one of the three courses containing an element that was prepared at the table. Their food was judged by some of the best employers and chefs across the country: Shara Ross – General Manager of Hotel Felix , Mark Poynton –Chef/Patron of Restaurant Alimentum , Eric Snaith – Head Chef  at Titchwell Manor, Russell Bateman – Head Chef of Colettes – The Grove Hotel, Nick Mills – Director at Brasteds and Nick Claxton Webb – Head Chef at Congham Hall.

Russell Bateman was judging for the first time this year and said: “I’m here because I have a keen interest in young chefs’ development; to see what talent there is in the area, how they use the skills they have learnt from their colleges and mentors and see how that can be used in a commercial kitchen.”

This year’s special guest was Adam Smith – Acorn and Roux Scholarship winner, with four AA rosettes at the Devonshire Arms to his name and now moving to The Coworth Park Hotel (part of the Dorchester Collection).

He said: “I was the same age as these competitors when I took part in my first catering competition. It’s good to be involved with these sorts of events as I think it is important to help inspire the next generation of chefs. We always need to bring new people into the restaurant workforce, so it’s imperative that the younger generation are excited about food and ‘A Passion to Inspire’ encompasses that.”

Nick Claxton-Webb, head chef at Congham Hall and a judge on the panel, said: “I got involved with this competition quite a few years ago to see what’s going on in the training kitchens at these colleges. It’s a great way of us working together to find creative students. We’ve seen a lot of creativity and innovation in the room and some really good food.”

Aside from taking the prestigious culinary title, the winning team, Cambridge Regional College, also won a chance to attend this year’s Skills for Chefs Conference in Sheffield, on 6 and 7 July, with accommodation. The event will be attended by fantastic chefs such as Nathan Outlaw, Richard Bainbridge, Graham Garrett, Rob Kennedy and Mick Burke to name but a few.

Matthew Dawson, 18, was on the winning CRC team. He said: “This was my first competition and overall it’s been a really good experience. It’s been difficult and quite stressful but still really fun.”

Despite not winning, the host college’s team said they really enjoyed the experience. CWA team member Casey Ford, 19, said his team worked really well together and he enjoyed the competition. He said: “Jamie-Leigh [Arlott] and Danielle [Joseph] really wanted to enter the competition and I volunteered to be their front of house.

“We were given a list of ingredients, price list and budget to stick to and from that the girls created our menu; infusing flavours together. I was nervous; in terms of nerves, this competition was on par with my driving test but it’s a great thing to be involved with and the girls have worked so hard!”

Judge Shara Ross said: “It’s really interesting to see the competition progress over the years. I’m really keen to promote female chefs in the kitchen and it’s great to see so many females behind the stoves today. It’s also interesting that before, the colleges weren’t using seasonal produce and cooking seasonally. Today, all of the menus are very seasonal which is great.”

The produce for the day was supplied by partner companies. Partner Company Norfolk Quail’s Ellie Savoury said: “It’s a privilege to take part in an event like this, mainly because I think it’s important to help these young people make their way in the world. There were lots that inspired me today; I’ve learnt a lot and had some very interesting food.”

Huge congratulations to all involved in this year’s competition. Judge Mark Poynton said: “Each year the competition is getting better and better and stronger and stronger. This year has probably been the best yet.”

Chef Judge Eric Snaith said: “I have been involved with this competition from the start. It’s really important that the students get to meet us, the local chefs, and for us to give them the support they need in the industry. We want to see them brave enough to get out there and take on the jobs that we need filling. The standard seems to get better every year; a few little mistakes but some real highlights and overall a fantastic day.”