Jean-Christophe Novelli leads search for future young chefs

Celebrity chef Jean-Christophe Novelli is joined by (from left) Kiera Campbell from Henderson Foodservice, Catriona Lennox from Springboard and previous NI FutureChef winner Oisin Gates from Dungannon

A CAMPAIGN fronted by multi-Michelin-starred Jean-Christophe Novelli has begun to unearth future young chefs in Northern Ireland and help stave off a potential future industry crisis.

As the head judge of FutureChef Northern Ireland, he will oversee the development of young chefs aged from 12 to 16 across different stages of a competition run by UK hospitality charity Springboard and backed by Henderson Foodservice.

FutureChef is the biggest schools-based culinary competition in the UK, with young people competing in four different stages from now through to March, including school heats, local finals, and regional finals, before culminating at a national final in London next year.

Since the initiative began in 1999, nearly 200,000 young people have taken part and learned how to cook, developing their skills and knowledge, with many going on to establish themselves within the industry.

As part of its mission to nurture young talent and promote hospitality as a great place to work, Springboard says it is aiming to get 10,000 young people trained, ready and into work by December 2022.

The competition comes as hospitality trade bodies across the UK warn of an acute lack of staff across the industry, with mid-level chefs being most scarce, which they blame on supply chain problems and EU workers leaving after Brexit.

Jean-Christophe Novelli met with a group of FutureChef alumni at his flagship restaurant in the AC Hotel Belfast to mark his first appearance as head judge of the Northern Ireland competition.

He said: “It's a privilege to have the opportunity to work with, and mentor, young chefs who will ultimately go on to do great things in the industry. Programmes like FutureChef are vital in terms of putting culinary arts and hospitality on the map for young people kick-starting their careers.

“I look forward to sharing my advice, knowledge and skills to ultimately encourage more people into the industry. I'm excited to be part of this journey and to witness the young talent coming through – and it gives me a bit of déjà vu to when I was starting out.”

Kiera Campbell, sales director at Henderson Foodservice, said: “We have weathered the storm alongside our hospitality colleagues throughout the dual challenges of Brexit and Covid-19 and now we're encouraging the next generation to step forward, build their skills and get their first taste of being part of this thriving sector.

“Northern Ireland has such a rich tapestry of food suppliers, growing fresh ingredients right on our doorstep. We have produced some of the top chefs in the UK, and we have no doubt there are more waiting in the wings to step into the limelight. We're excited to get the competition going, nurture the entrants through the heats and get a first taste of our future star chefs.”

Oìsìn Gates, winner of the 2020 FutureChef regional final in Northern Ireland, said: “Competing in this competition provides you with a 360 degree view of the hospitality industry and the many different career paths you can take.

“Luckily for me, I was also able to gain insights from some of the most well-respected chefs in Northern Ireland, including Paula McIntyre and James Devine.

“Now, after such a valuable experience, I want to go to university to help fulfil my ambitions of becoming a dietician or nutritionist. FutureChef has helped me realise these ambitions, which I didn't know I had previous to entering the competition.”

The deadline to register for FutureChef competition in Northern Ireland is Friday November 12. For more details visit:

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