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A few days in the life of the 2010 Graduate Awards highest achiever

Jack Allibone is just 22 and decided to become a chef because both his parents went to Westminster College. He grew up being taught little things here and there in the kitchen and home-cooked meals were the order of the day, but his very first job was as an assistant in a magic shop at the age of 13! Some of that magic must have rubbed off on him as he’s quickly proven himself to be a very talented and dedicated young chef.

Jack Allibone; “My first job in hospitality started three years ago as commis chef at the House of Commons where, working with chefs such as Nick Munting and my mentor, David Bush, I learnt a great deal. I wanted to enter the Graduate Awards as it’s highly respected in our industry and I like to push myself, so it seemed like a great challenge. On the day of the Awards lunch I was completely shocked and elated to be named the highest achiever as I was up against chefs from Michelin starred kitchens; I would have been happy to have just achieved the grade.

“Since then, my year has been amazing and my feet haven’t touched the ground; it’s added to my determination to learn more and my profile has been raised in the industry. I’ve been to Luxembourg with Villeroy & Boch, to the Hotel Cateys with Schwartz for Chef and part of my prize as highest achiever was an invitation from Chris Galvin to have lunch at La Chappelle, which was truly fantastic. I went on to do a week’s work experience there and came away with a job offer! I am now demi-chef de partie there and I am learning so much.

“Another element of my highest achiever prize was to go to the south of France on a study tour with McCormick, Schwartz for Chef’s parent company, to visit their operation in Carpentras. Whilst there I ate amazing food, met remarkable people and tasted superb wines. This is my diary of events…”

Tuesday 10th May

4.45am. It’s early. Really early, and I am due to meet Steve Love, McCormick’s development chef, at Gatwick Airport for the start of my study tour to France.

5.00am and I’ve had my 5th coffee! A sleep on the plane is needed! I can't wait to get there.

Just outside Carpentras and we’ve stopped at a nice restaurant for lunch; Hôtel La Margelle, Pernes-les-Fontaines. Kicking off with foie gras torchon followed by salmon with a mille feiulle de legumes and the chef’s speciality; spiced ice cream to finish – rather fitting for the event! Love the simplicity of it all. Good quality, fresh ingredients and clean tasting dishes. The sweet and spiced nut and ice cream loaf with a honey syrup was lovely. Nothing left after three courses, feeling stuffed…
McCormick factory visit. Well, I had no idea the number of processes that go into producing the spices and herbs that we use every day. From the steaming, to the quality control checks each hour, and the grand scale of the operation just blew me away! I have also learnt about the new product development side of McCormick and the global flavour diversities they have to take into consideration; they even have different blends of the same product for different countries to meet that country’s flavour preferences!

Tonight’s meal is at Restaurant Coin Crèche and the highlights of the night were the two main courses we had; precision cooked salmon and an amazing lightly curried braised lamb shank. Just goes to show you can showcase food with the minimum of fuss. You just need good quality ingredients and an appreciation of flavours.

Wednesday 11th May

Just got back from Château de la Gardine, Châteauneuf du Pape (www.gardine.com). Stunning views of the vineyards and a really interesting tour of the cellars and bottling process. Our host was Marie-Odile Brunel, the owner, who gave us an insight into matching the wines with food. My favourite red was the Gaston Philippe, which I was given a bottle of to take home, and I now know it would be perfect with strong red meat and milder game. All in all we tasted 8 different wines; 3 white, 5 red. Dinner tonight is at restaurant Christian Etienne (www.christian-etienne.fr).

Well, dinner at restaurant Christian Etienne did not disappoint! We sat on a balcony, overlooking the square in Avignon and opted for the confidence menu - a menu which is not written, but the chef sends you in-season food. It was incredible. The highlights were the asparagus gazpacho with garlic foam, so clean and fresh, and the foie gras with pickled asparagus and lemon was such a lovely, delicate balance of flavours. The sommelier chose perfect wines to accompany the food, from the sweet white to go with the foie gras to the deep red to go with the pigeon. The final place was a lovely chocolate brûlée with coffee cream and raspberries. The whole night was brilliant and I got to meet the chef as well. He was friendly and charismatic and showed me the kitchen after our meal; the pastry section was as big as the main kitchen!

Thursday 12th May

Today we visited the market in Avignon before leaving for the airport. Provence is a region famed for its production of food and wine, thanks to the wide expanses of arable land, vineyards and great weather. The market is in the heart of this ancient city and is filled with regional specialities. It’s like a step back in time, as you can see that the people here have been living like this for centuries. I wish we had more markets like this in England and I wish I could take the food back with me. I am slightly jealous of the French way of life. It’s good to see a local market so busy instead of everyone buying their food at a supermarket.

Well, my time as the highest achiever in 2010 is almost over and the next chef is about to step into a mind-blowing experience of his or her own. I’ve had an incredible year, so many doors have opened for me; I’ve met the most interesting people, experienced some extraordinary things and learned a whole load. My advice to any young chef that wants to do well would be to work hard, really hard. With this industry you get out what you put in and there are many experienced chefs out there who are more than willing to help you if you are prepared to put in the commitment. Eat out as much as you can, in as many different types of restaurants as you can; you can pick up some great lunch deals these days. What’s next for me? Well, I’m going to continue to gain knowledge through my work, from my peers, by eating out and reading as much as I can.