For the first time since its launch in 1989, the competition was open to young hospitality professionals as well as students and apprentices. And this year, celebrity judges included Fat Duck chef turned food writer and influencer, Julie Jones, and MasterChef: The Professionals winner, Louisa Ellis. As a result, almost 1 000 back-of-house and front-of-house superstars registered to compete, representing 40 colleges and 40 businesses from across the UK.
With safety at the forefront, this year's competition retained its trademark prestige and excitement through adopting a hybrid format. And during the gripping Grand Finals, 12 finalists went head-to-head in a week of challenges – performed both virtually and in a COVID-safe environment at the Nestlé Professional Gatwick HQ.
Each day offered a new challenge, encouraging finalists to develop new and hone existing skills, before putting them to use to impress the judges. With all challenges focused on creating a high-quality Toque d'Or 2021 recipe book, finalists received world-class tuition from judges on creating their food and drinks, recipe writing, food photography, personal biographies and social media. And they were asked to post about the experience on social media using #Toquedor2021.
Judges gave tips and support over Zoom and most of the challenges were completed virtually by finalists in their homes. At the Nestlé Professional HQ, they met fellow finalists and got the chance to showcase their skills – serving a two-course meal, including tea and coffee-based drinks to a few VIP guests and the Toque d'Or judges.
With 76 back-of-house and 36 front-of-house students at the Heats, there an array of remarkable talent on display. Once these had been whittled down to the 12 finalists, four winners were chosen in four separate categories.
Katya Simmons, Managing Director of Nestlé Professional UK&I, says:
"A huge, heartfelt congratulations to the winners! We are so proud of all of the contestants who took part: the standard has never been so high.
"It's now more important than ever to support young talent within the hospitality industry, equipping them with the experience and skills to succeed in their careers. We are delighted to be able to do exactly that with Toque d'Or.
And we are ever grateful to our fantastic panel of judges. As well as giving our finalists solid skills based on real-world experience, they've served as an inspiration to competitors throughout."
Alongside Julie Jones and Louisa Ellis, this year's competition judges included educator and drinks expert Alison Taffs, Robert Smith from Shuttersmith, Aaron Dunn and Ryan Burke from Nescafé Azera Barista+.
The winners were revealed in today's virtual awards ceremony, presented by TV personality Mark Durden-Smith at 16:00 on Toque d'Or's YouTube channel.
The winners for back-of-house are Kenny Markham or Burnt Lemon Ltd and Sarah Morton of New City College London. The winners for front-of-house are Georgia Wheatley of University College Birmingham and Sophie Taylor of Edinburgh College.
To hear about the competitors, and to experience the competition buzz on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, check out the #Toquedor2021 hashtag.