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My Experience with Competitions
Entering cooking competitions was never a difficult decision for me, it was something I was always instinctively drawn to.
I first began cooking competitively in secondary school, when my home economics teacher encouraged me to participate in a couple of competitions. I quickly realised how much I enjoyed cooking under pressure and in an environment different than that of my class or home. Cooking where the stakes are raised allows you to focus intently on the task at hand and gets you in the zone.
Last year I decided to enter the Euro-Toques Ireland Young Chef of the Year competition. I felt I was talented enough and motivated enough to potentially do quite well in the competition. The first round involved a written assignment where we were tasked with developing a recipe, calculating the cost and completing other paperwork involved in the recipe building process. Successful applicants from this were then shortlisted for an interview. Those who made it through the interview would eventually move onto the semi-final where you take part in a culinary skills test. As part of last year’s competition, we were given a mystery box full of ingredients and instructed to come up with a dish, which was then judged by a selection of judges.
I have decided to enter the ‘Young Chef of the Year Competition’ once again this year. I’m currently going through the judging process with my Strawberry, Honey and Elderflower dish (pictured below) under scrutiny.
Last year I was the only female chef that made it to the last 14 of the Young Chef Competition. At the time it didn’t worry me too much as I was solely fixated on the competition and how to be the best as I could possibly be in competition. However, I am aware that professional kitchens, particularly fine-dining establishments are often quite macho, with a high ratio of males to females. Whether this is down to public perception that professional kitchens aren’t suitable for women or other factors, I don’t know. What I can say is that in most of the places I have worked the culture in the kitchen has been great however, they have been quite male-dominated.
I have been privileged to experience kitchens ran by fantastic women such as Danni Barry and Paula Stakelum. I think women make fantastic chefs and I would love to see more women coming into the industry and add more balance to kitchens. I think male and female chefs working side by side would result in some really excellent kitchens. I would be delighted to see more women and young chefs entering these competitions, to show how quality their cooking can be, even under pressure and to see just a little bit more diversity in kitchens.
Despite the pressure and intensity, I enjoy competitions. While it can be a little intimidating having your work so heavily scrutinised and examined, I take a lot of pride in what I produce and relish the opportunity to showcase my finest creations. It’s a great opportunity to use complex pastry techniques, fantastic ingredients and exercise a little creative flair in coming up with new dishes. On top of that, it’s a fantastic learning experience and a chance to test yourself within a new environment. I feel it’s important for young chefs to push themselves out of their comfort zones, evolve and develop their skills. That’s why I enter competitions.
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