University College Birmingham students win gold at Hotelympia
Read time: approx 5 mins
Two years ago and for different reasons, UCB students Georgia Wheatley, Ryan Averill and Brett McSkimming all found themselves struggling with their place in the world. Fast forward to this week and the intrepid trio were only celebrating on one of the biggest competitive stages in the UK hospitality industry. Here, we find out about their journey…
If you’d told Food and Beverage Service Level 3 students Georgia Wheatley, Ryan Averill and Brett McSkimming in 2016 that they would be celebrating winning at Hotelympia two years later, they would have laughed. But, that’s exactly what happened.
Georgia and Ryan were both beyond thrilled to receive a gold medal in the Table Theatre Starter and Dessert Starter Plates category of the Student Restaurant Classes at the 2018 show’s International Salon Culinaire, while Brett McSkimming could not contain his joy at walking away with a silver for Cocktail Mixology.
It is a dream come true for the three students, not least because of just how much they had been struggling with their own difficult personal circumstances, not so long ago.
“I wasn’t the best behaved at school and had outstayed my welcome, really,” said Georgia, who made a Caesar salad for her entry. “I just found it so difficult to sit in a classroom for hours. I then, casually, decided to go to a food service taster day at UCB and fell in love with it. I had found something I was good at and it changed my life.”
Ryan, who is nicknamed ‘The Pancake King’ and served up his signature speciality for his entry, was actually studying to be a chef at UCB after failing to get into the military when he realised his true vocation.
“In the last few services of my first year chef course, we had to do some front of house and I found I had a real passion for it. After that, I made the decision to move to the front of house programme for my second and third year, he said. “Having chef skills has helped me with things like flambéing, and the fact I’m a bit of a pyrotechnic helps.”
Brett, who served up canapés and cocktails for his entry at Hotelympia, overcame so much to find himself in the position he is in today, a major competition winner who is about to start a job at Purnell’s Bistro, owned by Michelin-starred Glynn Purnell.
“I had quite a difficult time at school and felt very uncertain about my future,” he said. “I came to one of UCB’s Have a Go taster days in the restaurant and bar when I was 13, and completely fell in love with the bar work. I felt like I was coming alive.”
The trio, who were all graduates of UCB’s Young Waiters Academy for 14-16 year olds, practised every day for four solid weeks to get ready for Hotelympia. To best prepare Brett, lecturer Christine Alberto arranged a four-week placement at Purnell’s Bistro working under bar manager Charlie Budge, who has since offered him a bartender job when he graduates this summer.
Hotelympia very nearly wasn’t meant to be for Georgia, who said she ate so much Caesar salad in the run up to the competition, she feared she was “turning into a rabbit”.
Waking up late and missing UCB’s minibus, she then missed her train from Birmingham and had to run to catch a number of different connections. It was only many tears later that she arrived with just minutes to spare. Thankfully, Brett and Ryan had unpacked her box and set up for her.
“I don’t think I would have been ready otherwise,” said Georgia, who works as a part-time waitress in Michelin-starred Simpsons in Edgbaston.
“There is such great solidarity between us and we have each other’s backs, which the other competitors didn’t seem to have. Some of them even commented on our chemistry and how great it was that we were cheering for each other.
“During the competition itself, I wasn’t really nervous, but was definitely running on adrenalin. After we’d competed, we had to wait an hour and a half before the results were read out and when we heard our names, we just screamed.”
“For two years, I was determined to do this competition,” said Brett, who had entered competitions in the past, but had not achieved the highest awards. “It was nerve-wracking, my stomach was churning constantly and I had to start again at one point, but I proved to myself I could do it. This medal is going to take me a long way.”
“My hands were shaking so much, I almost shook them off,” added Ryan, who has just been offered a server job at the award-winning Anderson’s Bar & Grill in Birmingham.
Tutor Christine, who mentored the students for the competition, said she couldn’t be prouder of the hard-working trio. “These three are dedicated, passionate, give 100% and are students I can rely on,” she said. “If I ask them to do something, I know they will do it. In the past two years, I have watched them go from learning the basics to getting right into the detail, all while showing initiative and independence.
“Crucially, they have learnt that things do not always go your way, but it’s how you come back from it, something they demonstrated at Hotelympia. I didn’t send them to win, just to have the experience, but they completely deserve it. I am extremely proud.”
Following the Hotelympia win, the world is now the students’ oyster. In Brett’s words, “everything is coming together nicely.”
Find out more about UCB’s Food and Beverage Service Level 2 and 3 college course.