What’s cooking: Megan Baldock on apprenticeships, food waste and Nestle Toque d’Or

We caught up with our apprentice commis chef Megan Baldock, based at one of our flagship locations in London. Aged 18, Megan spent a year at college studying for her Level 2 Chef qualification and is now studying an apprenticeship, supported by HIT training.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
I love food! It’s not a boring job at all, especially working in the team I do. Every day is different. I’ve recently been experimenting with the classic French style of cooking – there’s a lot of history and science to it. Being a chef isn’t just about cooking.

What does a typical day in the kitchen look like for you?
My days vary, but I arrive at 7am and support with the breakfast prep and service. Whether that’s continental, full English, baking the pastries or displaying the fruit platters. If we have a quieter day, I make a start on practicing the dishes I have to submit for my apprenticeship coursework. Today I’ve been perfecting my vegetarian dish of turnip gratin, pea mousse with quail’s egg and radish. If we have a busy day ahead, I help on either the pastry or larder sections, as that way I get the best exposure to all areas of the kitchen.

What advice would you give to any young female chefs starting out in their career?
Give it your all, being a chef whether you’re male or female isn’t an easy career, but the best thing you can do as a young chef is to educate yourself. I may be a young commis chef, but we all respect each other and are considered as equal. Working here, we’re like one big family and we often go for drinks on a Friday.

What are your future ambitions?
Now, I’m focusing on getting as many qualifications under my belt so I can open as many doors as I can. The more you know, the better the chance you have. Having said that, I’m really interested in pastry – it’s more of an art as it requires so much attention to detail; I’m a perfectionist!

What opportunities have you gained from your apprenticeship?
This year I made it as a finalist in the Nestle Toque d’Or Awards; it was an amazing experience! 400 apprentices and college students applied by submitting a vegetarian dish for 4 covers. My dish was roasted cauliflower steak, roasted cauliflower puree, hazelnut pesto, trumpet mushrooms, purple cauliflower carpaccio, cauliflower cous cous and blowtorched grapefruit pigments. The whole dish was based around using food waste – the cauliflower leaves were used for the pesto and the trimmings for the cous cous.

Sixty made it through to the semi-finals where we cooked at Westminster College for a judging panel, and 6 were chosen for the final. The final stage involved a week away with the Nestle professional team. We travelled to various restaurants and were given talks about where our food comes from. During the entire week, we were being filmed and judged, not only by our cooking skills but the amount of interest we took, we were given quizzes on the day of what we’d learnt and how well we communicated with others.

Still to this day, I can’t believe I made it to the final 6 – I really didn’t expect to get as far as I did. It’s also led to me being approached by Smith and Smithfield to share my journey with their apprentices.

What did you learn from the competition?
The competition was character building, it’s given me so much confidence. Everyone I met was so friendly; it was a great networking opportunity to meet young chefs.

When I look at where I am now compared to where I was when I started my apprenticeship 8 months ago, I feel like a different person – I’ve learnt so much!

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