College of Food stars scoop fifth Nestlé Toque d'Or title for UCB
A team of students from University College Birmingham have seen off competition from around the UK to clinch a prestigious national culinary title.
College of Food trio Luke Hayward, Yasmine Selwood and Faiha Ahmed were announced as the winners of the 2019 Nestlé Professional Toque d'Or in a special awards ceremony at London's Royal Lancaster hotel on Friday 14 June.
It's the fifth time students from UCB have triumphed at the Grand Finals of the annual competition, which sees teams judged on both their cooking and service skills.
The win was particularly sweet for FdA Professional Cookery student Luke, who was previously part of the UCB team that narrowly missed out on the top gong in last year's final.
"Last time I was so disappointed so I insisted on coming back again," said Luke. "It still hasn't quite sunk in yet, to be honest!
"Now it's on my CV I'm hoping it will take me far – even on finding out the results I was being offered jobs."
Having battled through the national heats of the contest back in March, the Grand Finals saw the trio compete with teams from four other institutions through a series of challenges spread over four days.
After being tested on their knowledge of wines with a visit to Denbies Wine Estate in Surrey, the team had to cook and serve lunch at Smiths of Smithfield, working on multiple elements in the kitchen and front of house under the watchful eye of the competition judges.
They were then challenged to deliver a fine dining banquet at the Kimpton Fitzroy hotel in Russell Square, producing a sustainable three course menu developed by award-winning chef Simon Hulstone.
For their final task, the trio visited Watts Farms in Dartford to learn about sustainable harvesting practices before picking ingredients from the field to use in their own dishes cooked for the judges.
The group were brought together and supported throughout the contest by Neil Rippington, Dean of the College of Food at UCB, who served as the team's mentor.
"We couldn't have had a better team this year," said Luke. "We had Neil's support through all of it, from meeting up as team-mates right through to getting the awards. We've had other lecturers who have helped us too."
The group's team spirit was very much in evidence during the finals, with Level 3 Professional Cookery student Yasmine even volunteering to leave the kitchen and provide front of house support.
"I had initially thought that it would all be very intense kitchen work but we had so much fun," said Yasmine. "To have an achievement like this under our belts is amazing.
"I know it will open up so many doors for us all and I couldn't ask for better people to share it with. We came together for the Toque d'Or but we go forward as a family."
BA Hospitality and Tourism Management student Faiha, who worked front of house throughout the competition, said: "It was incredible and I feel so proud of the team.
"Going through it was great, I enjoyed it a lot. It wasn't scary or anything because we as a team clicked so well, and we all learned a lot of things too."
It is the third time in the past four years that UCB has scooped the Toque d'Or title, having previously won in 2016 and 2017, with five titles in total stretching back to 2010.
Praising the team, mentor Neil Rippington said: "We're very proud of the achievement. I think the team thoroughly deserved it – I saw their progress throughout the competition and they put everything into it, they performed excellently.
"The team were an absolute pleasure from start to finish. There was never one cross word in the whole thing, and everybody that I spoke to was so complimentary about them."
It's the latest in a series of culinary competition prizes for UCB this year, with Toque d'Or winner Luke also having scooped a bronze award at the Young Chef Olympiad in India back in February.
Meanwhile there have been further successes this month, with two College of Food students claiming 2nd place at the UK Young Seafood Chef of the Year contest last week, while there was a string of awards for the University's budding bakers at the Alliance of Bakery Students and Trainees (ABST) competition.
Find out more about our range of courses at UCB’s College of Food here.