Nestle Professional’s Toque d’Or is a renowned culinary competition, with previous entrants including celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and Anton Mosimann, former Maitre Chef des Cuisines at The Dorchester Hotel. In 2016, a specialist apprentice contest was launched to provide young professionals at the commis chef level a chance to learn important career skills and prove themselves to be the best. This year, announced at a ceremony at The Dorchester Hotel, the competition was won by Mateusz Hnatowksi, apprentice chef at Restaurant Associates.
The first thing you understand after speaking with Mateusz is how the experienced he gained during the Toque d’Or process far outweighs the glory of winning the competition. Humble, grateful, but primarily keen to learn, Mateusz barely mentions the title he won or the prizes he is set to receive, instead focussing on the confidence and new skills he has developed.
Mateusz’s participation in the Toque d’Or started simply enough with a YouTube application: entrants created a 90 second video of them cooking a chosen dish. A parmesan infused artichoke purée with morels, cabbage and feta cheese dish later and Mateusz found himself in the semi-final. After recreating this dish in judged, competition conditions Mateusz was then informed he would be joining five other apprentice chefs in the final.
“A lot of preparation went in to the semi-final; my head chef Adam stayed late with me, helping me think of new ways of approaching cooking,” Mateusz said. “We worked hard on perfecting that dish on time and to a good standard.”
With the semis successfully navigated, the final is really where the fun started. Spread over five days, Mateusz and the fellow finalists undertook a series of visits, tutorials and cooking challenges. From gaining a beginner’s wine tasting certification and recreating a famous restaurant brand’s dishes to serving a 150 cover, 3 course meal in The Gherkin building, London, the young chefs were put through their paces. It would take over a month to find out, but at an event at The Dorchester Hotel, Mateusz was named the winner!
Although he mentions them only when prompted, the prizes Mateusz will receive keep the brilliant experiences coming. Cooking at a prestigious racecourse, level 2 wine tasting and a week back in the Gherkin’s kitchen top the list.
It certainly seems a long way from when Mateusz joined Restaurant Associates, Compass Group UK & Ireland, as a kitchen porter 3 years ago. Given his chance in the kitchen by his head chef, he joined the Compass apprentice programme (Chef Academy) two years ago and hasn’t looked back.
“The Chef Academy has given me a lot; I have been able to develop my skills and gain a qualification while earning. But most of all it gave me a chance to explore my aspirations in cooking. I would recommend a culinary apprenticeship to anyone considering a career as a chef.”