December 2023

Bumper roundup: another top year for our college of food

By Melanie Hall and Carrie Mok

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There's so much to cram in when it comes to amazing achievements and awards from University College Birmingham's college of food this year, but here we go!

In our roundup of the first half of the year back in June, we heard all about our students' podium place at Zest Quest Asia, bakery brilliance at the ABST, and were on tenterhooks to find out if student chef Amber Clay would lift the 2023 Nestlé Professional Toque d’Or trophy. Since then, our students and alumni have won even more awards and even topped a Good Food Guide list, while our Restaurant at Birmingham College of Food, where our students get real-life practice with real diners, made it big on the map of places to eat out in the region.

Here’s our roundup of what our college of food has been up to over the last six months:

Amber Clay with lecturer and proud mentor Mat Shropshall

Amber lifts Toque d'Or trophy

We couldn't have been any prouder of Professional Chef FdA student Amber Clay when she lifted this year's prestigious Nestlé Toque d’Or trophy - winning a incredible culinary trip to Brazil.

The annual competition is notoriously tough, but Amber kept her nerve and shone bright with her mouth-watering menus and skills tests, impressing a judging panel including award-winning chef Tommy Banks and sommelier and wine expert Raul Diaz.

We saw her create her own sustainable fish dish of mackerel, beetroot salad, beetroot gel, pickled cucumber and horseradish espuma, develop two flavoured doughnuts around a raspberry and milky bar treat and a mint Aero, take on a cocktail challenge and help deliver a Tommy Banks fine dining menu to 60 guests.

Mentored by her lecturers, Amber found her confidence in the kitchen and on the competitive stage. Coming to Birmingham with challenges including autism, however, was a big step.

Read the full story

For the love of food: Ben and Kaisia win Good Food Guide's Best Local Restaurant in Central and East of England

Love birds who met as students make Britain's 100 best local restaurants

Tropea, the Italian restaurant in Harborne, Birmingham, was this year not only recommended by the Michelin Guide, but was named among Britain's 100 Best Local Restaurants in the Good Food Guide - and it all started with a love story at University College Birmingham.

Partners Ben Robinson Young and Kaisia Piatkowska met while studying on our Culinary Arts Management degree in 2010. Thirteen years on, their restaurant venture has not only made the top 100 in the UK charts, but was voted the best local restaurant in the Central and East of England regional category.

Just eight regional winners in the whole of the UK were chosen from the top 100 - down from 37,000 nominations for great neighbourhood eateries across England, Scotland and Wales, demonstrating just how good our graduates' restaurant really is.

The dream team not only run the restaurant. Kaisia is head chef, while Ben works front of house. They said: "We’re really proud that the restaurant has become part of the community so quickly. What matters to us most is that every single customer that leaves Tropea has had a great experience and wants to come back.

“Our degree absolutely shaped our future and gave us the skills and confidence to follow our dream of opening a restaurant. What we learned over four years cooking, doing basic accounts and costings and business planning has been invaluable. We're now the proud owners of a successful business - many thanks to all of our lecturers for the start they gave us!” 

The Celtic Collection welcomed 20 of our aspiring chefs

Breathing fire into Welsh partnership

Birmingham College of Food at University College Birmingham is super proud of its vast network of industry connections across the globe, providing students with everything from placements to sector insight and masterclasses with award-winning chefs.

Our partnership with the Celtic Collection, for one, is going from strength to strength and this year, the University has seen its fourth cohort of Culinary Arts Management students embarking on a 12-month placement at the luxury Celtic Manor Resort and other Celtic Collection venues in South Wales.

University College Birmingham student Anna Joy, currently on placement as a commis chef at Celtic Manor’s Olive Tree restaurant as part of her BA (Hons) Culinary Arts Management degree, said: “When you come into the real industry, there are a lot of things that you learn from new. It was a bit tough for me to start but now, with all the guidance of my head chefs and seniors, I’ve been able to progress myself.

“You kind of feel like a family, that you are allowed to make mistakes and you learn from them. That gives you a good base as a student.”

Alumni from the previous year were also due to showcase their skills and flair alongside senior chefs from the Celtic Manor Resort for a Welsh Evening at our training restaurant, an evening set to become an annual event. A super opportunity for Celtic Manor chefs to see our students in action and discover how they have contributed to furthering the next generation's education.

Lauren wins British Culinary Federation student chef of the year!

It's a huge congrats to our very talented Level 3 Professional Cookery college student Lauren Smith, who was recently crowned winner of the 2023 British Culinary Federation Student Chef of the Year competition.

Senior lecturer Martin Hodgetts said: "It was a pleasure mentoring Lauren for the competition. She demonstrated her dedication and skill in practice and on the day, and I was extremely proud of her achievement. It is well deserved and hopefully one of many successes."

Lauren’s triumph follows Professional Cookery FdA undergraduate Louis Richards winning last year’s inaugural competition, launched to celebrate the UK’s upcoming stand-out chefs. Long may the winning streak continue!

Professional Cookery college student Lauren Smith wins BCF Student Chef of the Year 2023

Former college student chef Ieuan Davies made the quarter-finals of MasterChef: The Professionals 2023

Ieuan makes MasterChef: The Professionals quarter-finals

Following in the footsteps of loads and loads of our former students, Ieuan Davies had a fantastic run on the 16th series of BBC's MasterChef: The Professionals.

While the ex-Professional Cookery Level 3 student went out in the quarter-finals, he came up with some outstanding dishes, including an ingenious banana dessert from the food waste invention test, where he even used the banana skin, impressing judges Marcus Wareing, Gregg Wallace and Monica Galetti.

The 26-year-old, who is head chef at Lilliput Farm Kitchen in Wiltshire, was encouraged into competitions by his college tutors, resulting in him winning Highest Achiever at the 2018 Craft Guild of Chefs Pastry Awards

Other former students who starred on MasterChef: The Professionals include Dan Lee, who won the competition in 2021, and Yasmine Selwood, who also progressed to the quarter-finals and was described by Marcus Wareing as 'superwoman' for balancing her studies and work with raising her four children.

Fine dining dishes prepared by students for our restaurant

Training restaurant wins top rankings

Our Restaurant at Birmingham College of Food, where the public can be part of the training experience while enjoying fine dining and first-rate service, once again cemented its standing as one of the city's best restaurants with a duo of top rankings.

The venue at our Summer Row campus building in the heart of the city centre was voted top 10 on Opentable’s Best Overall across Birmingham and rated ‘Exceptional’ from 800 reviews.

Meanwhile, review site Tripadvisor lauded the AA Rosette restaurant with a ‘Traveller’s Choice 2023’ badge, a five star ranking and a ranking of 12 out of over 1500 eateries in the city.

Read our Tripadvisor reviews

Read our Opentable reviews

The dinners aim to bring together diverse, inspiring and innovative trailblazers from across Birmingham, the UK and around the world to have conversations on key subjects affecting the food system and spark the collective power of change through collaboration.

The last Creative Dinner of the year will take place in December themed ‘Equalise, Empower, Collaborate’. It will assemble diverse, inspiring trailblazers to discuss the effect, impact and influence colonialism and diversity has on food systems around the world and in Birmingham.

University College Birmingham is a leading provider of specialist training for the food and hospitality industries, with students learning in our award-winning training restaurant and industry-standard kitchen facilities, as well as having a wealth of opportunities to put their skills to the test in prestigious national and international competitions.

Discover our full range of courses within our Birmingham College of Food.  

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