March 2023

Apprentices working at top Brum restaurants win record haul of medals at Hotelympia

By Killoran Wills and Darren Campbell

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Read time: approx 6 mins

University College Birmingham chef apprentices working at Michelin-starred restaurants and other venues across the region have come away with a record medal haul from the Hotelympia skills competition – an achievement described as “exceptional”.

Eight young people, seven on the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts Chefs’ Apprenticeship, put their expertise to the test against 200 competitors from colleges around the country.

And they took five out of the eight golds awarded in their classes, a record for University College Birmingham chef lecturer and team mentor Tony Wright.

"I’m incredibly proud of them and they have so much potential"

Tony Wright Chef lecturer and team mentor

Tony said: “We chose to take these apprentices to Hotelympia after they did a trade test and brilliantly showed that they could cope under the pressure in the mayhem of such an enormous competition and in front of an audience.

“I’m incredibly proud of them and they have so much potential. It’s been an honour to teach and mentor them as part of their apprenticeship.”

Ria and Courtney with Monica Galetti

Among the eight students were Ria Robinson, Courtney Edwards and Kathryn Jones, who not only scooped golds and silvers between them, but found themselves deep in conversation about female role models in the industry with former MasterChef judge and restaurateur Monica Galetti at the event.

It was a particularly surreal day for Ria, who was only called on with very little practice time to compete when another student fell ill, drawing on her experience as a chef apprentice at Sky by the Water at the NEC and her theory and practical learning at University College Birmingham.

“I won two silvers and was so happy, then we saw Monica who was judging a competition and decided to go up and talk to her,” she said.

“She was really nice, a real girl’s girl, and we talked about female role models in the industry.”

Stuart Wildsmith, who leads on apprenticeships at Birmingham College of Food, said: “It is a day that will live long in the memory. It made me proud to be their lecturer, proud to work for the University, but most of all, I was proud of them. They were incredible, exceptional.”

Showered with compliments from all directions at the ExCeL London venue, Chef Wildsmith praised the exemplary behaviour of the students who practised for three weeks leading up to the competition. And he commended the sense of camaraderie they had shown that was “way above their age”.

“They were massively pleased for each other. Silver medal winners showed courage and bravery and were sincerely congratulating those who won gold,” he said.

Hotelympia, the UK's largest foodservice and hospitality event, incorporates the prestigious International Salon Culinaire awards and is regarded as one of the world’s top competitions.

The RACA Chefs Apprenticeship Scheme is a three-year vocational course normally aimed at aspiring young chefs aged between 16 and 19 years old.

Luke Burrows with lecturer Christine Alberto

Luke serves up sensational silver

Also competing in Hotelympia was Food and Beverage Service Supervision Level 3 student Luke Burrows, who scooped silver in the Mixology category.

Tasked with producing two cocktails, Luke impressed the judges with his own creations, a strawberry and basil cocktail and a pineapple tiki mocktail.

It was a first-ever competition for Luke, who has ambitions to own his own bar and plans to continue his studies on University College Birmingham's International Hospitality and Tourism Management BA (Hons) course.

"I didn't expect to win a medal," he said. "I've worked in a cocktail bar so I had a little bit of experience, but this was my first time going solo and doing a cocktail by myself.

"It looks great on your CV and I think it gives you a bit more confidence. I also had to look into food palates and what's in season, so it's a learning experience."

Lecturer Christine Alberto, who supported Luke in preparing for the competition, praised the 18-year-old's initiative.

"I'm very proud of the two cocktails Luke came up with because they were all his doing," said Christine. "He was able to create something out of the ordinary and present it well, and win in his first competition.

"We talked about presentation and little details, I tasted them and gave my approval. But he sourced his own ingredients and his cocktails were right from the word go, so it was even more commendable for him to get this reward."

Interested in a career in food and hospitality? Our renowned Birmingham College of Food offers a wide variety of hands-on courses for college, undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

Discover our full range of courses here.

Hotelympia 2023: Our winners

Best end of lamb prep

  • Gold – George Ng, Chapter Restaurant
  • Silver – Lewis Perks, Simpsons (Michelin Star)

Flat fish preparation

  • Gold – Kathryn Jones, Simpsons (Michelin Star)
  • Silver - Jonathan Schofield, Purnell’s (Michelin Star)


  • Silver - Luke Burrows

Cutting a chicken for sauté

  • Gold – George Ng , Courtney Edwards, Hampton Manor
  • Silver – Ria Robinson, Sky by the Water, Genting, NEC

Preparation of round and oily fish

  • Gold – Harry Edwards, Salt, Stratford-upon-Avon (Michelin Star)
  • Silver – Ria Robinson, Lewis Perks
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