The finalists for Springboard’s FutureChef competition have been revealed as young chefs turned up the heat in kitchens across Northern Ireland to make it through the first round of the contest.
Out of over 700 entrants, 25 aspiring chefs, aged from 12 to 16 years old from across the Province, took part in the regional heats judged by local professional chefs, including Geoff Baird, business development chef from competition sponsor Henderson Foodservice, alongside chefs James Devine, Colleen Lennon, Chris McGowan, John Clark and Chris Bell.
Five finalists have now been chosen: Olivia Drain from Ballymena Academy in County Antrim, Michael Thompson from Campbell College in Belfast, Ewan McCandless from Wallace High School in Lisburn, Kristen Nugent from St Ciaran’s, Ballygawley, and Faith Belshaw from Newtownhamilton High School in Newry, and will now go head-to-head at the Northern Ireland finals in February.
It was revealed recently that celebrity chef Jean-Christophe Novelli will be the head judge at the Northern Ireland finals of the competition.
The winner of the local final will travel to London for the UK-wide final in March.
Throughout the heats the competitors were introduced to important themes such as sustainability, and plant-based and zero-waste cooking.
They have been mentored by the Henderson Foodservice chef and will continue to have one-on-one mentoring with the local professional chefs in the run up to the final, where the finalists will gain crucial insights into the industry alongside careers advice and guidance to encourage them to explore career opportunities within the sector.
Geoff Baird said: “My fellow judges and I have been really impressed by the calibre of cooking coming from these young people.
“They have so many ideas when it comes to flavour, presentation and what they want their meal to mean to the people who are going to be enjoying it.
“They’re as fussy about their ingredients as we professional chefs are, and insist on locally sourced produce, meats and poultry, which is a huge part of our business at Henderson Foodservice.
“After these heats I’ve no doubt the future of Northern Ireland hospitality is in great hands.”
FutureChef is Springboard’s flagship educational programme, which sits alongside a wide range of employability programmes designed for young people to help build their employability and soft skills, while giving them the confidence to kickstart a career in hospitality.
As part of its mission to nurture young talent and promote hospitality as a great place to work, Springboard is aiming to get 10,000 young people trained, ready and into work by December 2022.
Caitriona Lennox, Springboard Northern Ireland manager, added: “What enthusiastic and talented young chefs we have seen come through in the competition already.
“It has been a joy to watch them excel in the kitchen and for that passion to translate to their plates.
“The young people have learned so much from our judges during these regional heats already.
“We even had one special guest judge at our final heat who had won the competition back in 2003. Christopher Telford got his kickstart in hospitality with the Springboard FutureChef competition almost 20 years ago and is thriving in his career as catering manager at Belfast International Airport.
“Seeing proof of where this competition could take them really spurred on our competitors and gave them a buzz on the day.”
Since the FutureChef competition began in 1999, almost 200,000 young people aged 12-16 have taken part and learned how to cook, developing their skills and knowledge with many going on to establish themselves within the industry.
The five finalists will now prepare for the Northern Ireland finals, which take place at Belfast Metropolitan College on Thursday, February 10.
Henderson Foodservice is a leading supplier to the foodservice industry in Ireland.
The company sources and supplies a range of over 6,500 products to 4,500 customers across 11 sectors, including hotels, public sector offices and hospitals.