Jean-Christophe Novelli looks for young NI chefs as part of new role

Celebrity chef Jean-Christophe Novelli is calling on young budding chefs across Northern Ireland to take part and compete in Springboard’s annual FutureChef competition, as part of his new role as Head Judge.

The award-winning, multi-Michelin-starred chef met with a group of FutureChef Alumni at his flagship restaurant Novelli at City Quays – located in the AC Hotel Belfast – marking his first appearance as Head Judge of the Northern Ireland competition. The group, which included last year’s winner Oìsìn Gates, spoke to Jean-Christophe about their own experiences in the competition and how its enabled them to kickstart a career in hospitality.

As Head Judge of FutureChef Northern Ireland, Jean-Christophe will oversee the development of young chefs – aged 12-16 – across different stages of the competition, before announcing the winner of the regional finals at Belfast Metropolitan College on Thursday 10 February 2022.

The FutureChef competition is supported by Henderson Foodservice, the leading supplier to the foodservice and hospitality industry in Northern Ireland, and also takes place across Scotland, England and Wales, making it the biggest schools-based culinary competition in the UK. Young people across the nation compete in four different stages from October right through to March, including school heats, local finals, regional finals, before culminating at the national final in London.

Throughout the four-staged competition, young people in the Northern Ireland heats will be introduced to important themes such as sustainability and plant-based and zero-waste cooking. They will also be mentored by Henderson Foodservice Business Development Chef, Geoff Baird, and gain crucial insights into the industry by some of the most well-respected names in hospitality, as well as careers advice and guidance to encourage them to explore career opportunities within the sector.

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. Throughout this time, the competition has progressed and developed to form part of the overall FutureChef programme which offers industry links, online resources, module learning, careers advice and guidance, and a suite of teacher resources.

Commenting on his new role, Jean-Christophe Novelli, 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. I can’t explain just how important programmes like Springboard’s FutureChef are in terms of putting culinary arts and hospitality on the map for young people kickstarting their careers.

“I didn’t think twice about being part of this incredible initiative and look forward to sharing my advice, knowledge and skills to ultimately encourage more people into the industry. I’m really excited to be part of this journey and to witness the young talent coming through – I must admit, 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 finals for Northern Ireland, said: “Competing in FutureChef 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 would really like to go to University to help fulfil my ambitions of becoming a dietician or nutritionist. My passion is helping others to make good, healthy choices by creating nutritional meals that people would enjoy eating. FutureChef has helped me realise these ambitions, which I didn’t know I had previous to entering the competition.”

Springboard’s FutureChef is the charity’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, through its Springboard to 2022 initiative.

Chris Gamm, CEO of Springboard, said: “This is a time of the year that we all look forward to here at Springboard, as FutureChef gets off the ground across the whole of the UK. More than ever, we need to keep culinary careers at the forefront of students’ career choices, ensuring we have enthusiastic and talented young chefs entering the industry. Springboard’s FutureChef is perfectly placed to do this by equipping young people with the basic skills and knowledge that they need.

“We’re absolutely delighted to welcome Jean-Christophe Novelli to the Springboard family. A pioneer in the culinary arts world, he will naturally bring out the best in young people competing across Northern Ireland. It was fantastic to see him meet with some of our FutureChef Alumni and hear from them about their own experiences in the industry since competing. It’s going to be another great competition and we can’t wait to hear all of the wonderful stories. Good luck to all those competing!”