Entries are now open for Australia’s leading foodservice mentoring program, Proud to Be a Chef 2021.

Proud to Be a Chef sees 32 apprentice chefs chosen out of entries received from all over Australia to participate in a once in a lifetime opportunity: an all expenses paid experiential journey that embraces masterclasses, skills workshops, dining at prominent restaurants and invaluable networking opportunities with peers, industry leaders and program mentors.

The program culminates in the presentation of a Culinary Scholarship valued at $7,500 to the standout finalist, tailored to their personal interests and professional goals.

Proud to Be a Chef also includes ‘hands-on’ educational trips including to dairy farms, wineries, food markets and more — along with a focus on topical concerns: from what the foodservice sector’s ‘new normal’ is likely to be post-COVID to building mental resilience so as to better cope with the demands of this challenging industry. Food and environmental sustainability, personal and business branding, and how to utilise social media to boost one’s business profile are all on the agenda for Proud to be a Chef 2021.

RESIDENT MENTOR — MARK NORMOYLE

Each year the Proud to Be a Chef resident mentor, currently Mark Normoyle of Anchor Food Professionals, is joined by two guest mentors who share their skillsets, insights and passion with the program’s finalists and dedicate themselves to providing support and advice not just for the four days of the program but over the longer term. It’s an ongoing commitment which the Proud to Be a Chef mentors extend in an effort to give back to the industry.

And, as Normoyle explains, the mentors themselves also get a lot from the experience. “This is my second year with Proud to Be a Chef and it truly is an amazing program to be part of. I’m sure I got as much out of it as our finalists did – the team spirit that it builds is wonderful, and the relationships that are forged are ones that will last for the long haul,” he says. “I’m still in contact with our last set of finalists and we’ve been sharing ideas and innovations, with everyone trying to help each other out during the tough times of the past few months.”

For 2021, Proud to Be a Chef has engaged two mentors whom Normoyle describes as “amazing”, adding, “They’re both extremely talented, so I’m really excited about working with them to put together a fantastic experience for our finalists, which is going to be even bigger and better than last year.”

PASTRY MENTOR 2021 — JOSH COCHRANE

Josh Cochrane, Executive Pastry Chef at RACV City Club, Melbourne is the 2021 Pastry Mentor. Cochrane entered the industry at 15 as a kitchenhand working after school at a local patisserie, which is where his love for cooking and pastry was forged. “I love the camaraderie that goes along with working with kitchens — they’re really stressful environments, but you can forge some great friendships and bonds in those conditions,” he says. “Some of my best mates are chefs I worked with years and years ago.”

Cochrane found out about Proud to Be a Chef through Normoyle when they were working together at RACV City Club. “I’ve been along to some of the launch events and gala dinners, and followed the progress of the students,” says Cochrane. “It’s a fantastic program — I just wish there had been something like that back when I was an apprentice, because I certainly would have wanted to be part of it!”

He describes mentoring as “super important”, saying: “The industry has changed since I started out and I think there’s a lot more pressure these days on young chefs to be creating amazing, Masterchef-worthy dishes. Which makes mentoring and encouragement all the more important, because young people can get really bogged down in what others are doing and putting up on social media, and think they’re not as good and not worthy.

“One thing I’d like to impart to all apprentices is just to believe in themselves, and to understand that things take time — you don’t become a head chef in a year, you don’t get to be an amazing pastry chef overnight.

“There’s very few people who have those skills naturally ingrained — for the rest of us, they take time to develop. So you need to dedicate yourself to get to an advanced level and not give up when you don’t hit that within the first year or two – everyone starts at the bottom.”

Another message Cochrane is keen to pass on is the importance of mental resilience. “As I said, the kitchen is a highly stressful environment, so I think those two elements — patience and mental resilience — are key to succeeding in this industry,” he says.

Cochrane is currently planning his Proud to Be a Chef masterclass and says: “I definitely want to focus on a few key areas where you need to be personally shown to fully understand. There are some really cool things in pastry that I’ve found you can’t just learn from a YouTube video or a book — but I don’t want to be too specific just yet! It’s going to be a fun masterclass.”

SAVOURY MENTOR 2021 — JO BARRETT

Jo Barrett, Co-Executive Chef at Oakridge Wines, Yarra Valley is the 2021 Savoury Mentor. “My grandparents had a very strong influence on me as a child — my grandmother was a chef and we would fish and cook together a lot,” Barrett says. “I started my apprenticeship after finishing school, and after my first year I was lucky enough to be awarded a scholarship which allowed me to go to culinary school in Canada. I studied and worked in a French restaurant and bistro before returning to Melbourne inspired and eager to learn more.”

Barrett  loves many aspects of the industry. “The creativity, the technical skill, the history, the teamwork and most of all the connection to nature and produce,” she lists. “The combination of all that, topped off by cooking for people, makes cheffing very rewarding.”

Barrett first heard about Proud to Be a Chef through two of her apprentices who successfully entered the program. “Watching them prepare their applications, working through their entry dishes with them, then seeing how much impact the program had on their development was incredible,” she recalls. “They gained so much self-confidence, formed relationships with peers of the same level and were exposed to different parts of the industry. I think Proud to Be a Chef provides an opportunity for growth and development which you can’t learn just in the kitchen.”

Barrett herself has been fortunate enough to have had talented and generous mentors who have encouraged her and assisted in furthering her career. “Mentoring works best when both parties have respect for each other,” Barrett says. “You get out what you put in — when people are genuinely eager to learn and develop to feed their passion, I’m glad to be part of that. Sharing experience, teaching new skills and discussing ideas is truly collaborative. It’s exciting to talk about food and hear different perspectives. I love to share my experiences and if that can benefit someone else, it’s a great feeling.

“It’s not about knowing everything, rather it’s about the experience of discovery and the joy that brings. So I would say to our entrants, don’t be shy to ask or say when you don’t know something, otherwise it’s a missed opportunity.”

In planning her masterclass, Barrett says she wants to focus on historic and traditional methods of cookery like fermenting, and working within the seasons. “I’m also planning a strong focus on ways to cut down wastage and utilise ingredients to their full extent,” she says. “I think that’s a good fit with the theme of this year’s program – the Future of Food.”

To enter Proud to Be a Chef, applicants need to complete the online form, submit an original recipe using an Anchor Food Professionals product and explain why they are passionate about food and cookery, where they would like their apprenticeship to take them, and what they are hoping to get out of the program. Entries close 14 November 2020.

For full details visit www.proudtobeachef.com.

Image: From left, Josh Cochrane, Mark Normoyle and Jo Barrett.