Le Cordon Bleu Scholarship: the semi-finals

Le Cordon Bleu Scholarship: the semi-finals

by Great British Chefs 10 May 2016

The legendary cookery school's competition is down to its final fourteen contestants. We went along to the London semi-final heats to talk to some of the applicants and see how to judges put them to the test.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

With a prize worth over £35,000 – including a place on the coveted Diplôme de Pâtisserie, accommodation in central London and an internship with three-Michelin-starred chef Clare Smyth – it’s no wonder this year’s Le Cordon Bleu Scholarship Award received a record number of applications. Applicants were required to prove their passion for pâtisserie through a short video, and were then whittled down to just thirty-seven semi-finalists.

There were five semi-finals which took place across April, with a partnering chef in each location – Will Holland for Wales and the Midlands, Simon Hulstone for the South West, Anna Hansen for London and the South East, Mark Greenaway for Scotland and Northern Ireland and Frances Atkins for the North. We went along to the London heats, at Anna’s restaurant The Modern Pantry, to see how the semi-finalists would be tested.

‘To pursue a career in cooking you have to have passion,’ says Anna. ‘It gets you out of bed when you know you’re going to be standing up all day and makes you more interested in what everyone else is doing. Those with passion are the people who have something extra – instead of just being a chef, they become something truly brilliant.

‘Everyone who came here today was obviously passionate, but it definitely stood out more in certain people,’ she adds. ‘We needed to find out about their backgrounds and get certain things out of the applicants. It’s a brilliant opportunity and they were all very eager to win.’

On film
The candidates were asked to speak about their experience on film after their interview
Each successful applicant was first required to fill out a questionnaire, before meeting the panel

On the day, each semi-finalist was asked to fill out a questionnaire on the history of Le Cordon Bleu, before being interviewed by Anna along with the cookery school’s head pâtisserie chef Julie Walsh and academic director Loic Malfait. The interview also included a taste test, where applicants were given flavoured chocolates and asked to identify each one.

‘It all just goes in a flash,’ says Olivia Potts, one of the semi-finalists who went on to make the finals. ‘You feel like you’re talking for two minutes and two hours all at once and then you eat some chocolate and it’s over! I’ve got an absolutely stonking cold, so when I was told there would be a tasting I was a bit worried.’

‘I’m still nervous even though it’s over,’ says Jessica Deakin, another successful semi-finalist. ‘I work in a pub restaurant in Canterbury and it was my boss who saw the scholarship on Twitter and told me to apply. I thought it was such a good opportunity that I couldn’t miss it.’

Ka-Lai Poon was hoping for a career change from being an accountant, and had a particularly interesting plan on how she wanted to work in the industry. ‘As I see the food industry evolve I’m becoming more interested in the sustainability of it,’ she says. ‘There’s a shortage of chefs at the moment, and by 2020 there’s going to be a shortage of 11,000, so I'd like to help entice chefs into the industry.’

What was most apparent at the semi-finals was that the candidates were all very different from one another. Despite being pastry-obsessed, not all of them wanted to go into the kitchen – some wanted to open their own bakeries, while others planned to go into more managerial roles. Four of the London semi-finalists made it to the final, but whoever wins the top prize will be in the best position possible to make their dreams a reality.

The final

The successful candidates who made it to the grand final are Francezka Bell, Emily Black, Hannah Cannell, Jessica Deakin, Lawri Dowie, Maria Elisavet Kostaki, Bethany Marsh, Keiron Murphy, Ka-Lai Poon, Olivia Potts, Tim Schilling, Annabelle Spence, Megan Roberts and Sophie Rogers. The final stage of the competition will take place on Thursday 2 June.