Drew Dawson is a demi-chef de partie and the 2019 apprentice winner of the Nestlé Professional Toque d’Or apprentice competition.
What is your current role and what does it entail?
I’ve not long come back from a month and a half travelling around Italy, where I worked in a variety of traditional restaurants learning the craft of Italian cuisine. Now I’m back, I’m staging in a variety of different restaurants in London to try and garner as much experience as I can.
My next stage will be taking place at The Laughing Heart under Tom Anglesea, where I will be working on the full menu, which will include a range of duties, from cold larder and meat, to making terrines and fresh pasta. I’m really looking forward to applying the skills that I’ve acquired during my time in Italy to a fine dining setting.
Why did you want to work in foodservice?
I’ve always had a huge passion for food. I’ve spent a lot of time travelling over the past few years and I’m constantly looking for new ingredients to cook with, but for some reason it never occurred to me that it would be an industry I’d work in.
I eventually saw a documentary called Chef’s Table and it blew my mind. After that, I totally fell in love with food and couldn’t think about doing anything else. I was working in London at the time in an office job and it was purely fate that an advert came up on Instagram for an apprenticeship at The Ned, and I just decided to go for it.
What education, training and competitions have you undertaken to get this far?
I did an apprenticeship with HIT Training for 12 months, learning about every aspect of food and food preparation, from health and safety, to using the whole animal efficiently. I completed this at The Ned and received a distinction. This year, I competed in the Nestlé Professional Toque d’Or competition in the apprentice category and went on to win, which is an achievement I’m incredibly proud of.
How could B&I businesses attract more rising stars into the sector?
I think competitions such as Toque d’Or are something that not only B&I businesses, but the whole industry should get behind. By showing that these types of opportunities are available to rising stars within the sector, it will attract a lot more new talent to the industry. It’s also a way of demonstrating what the sector has to offer.
For example, the Toque d’Or competition gave me the opportunity to experience a wide variety of different environments, from working in a fast-paced kitchen under James Tanner to creating sustainable dishes from vegetables we’d harvested by hand at Watts Farm. Seeing first-hand how far the industry spans was a real eye opener for me and I really engaged with the sustainability message.
What do you enjoy about the industry?
Customer interaction is a big thing for me. I really love an open kitchen and getting to explain the provenance of the food and how it’s been prepared. Having that conversation is an amazing experience. I think now more than ever, chefs are becoming a bigger part of the restaurant experience and those interactions are a nice aspect for the customer as well as the cooks.
How do you think the industry can improve?
Work/life balance is a very topical discussion within the industry and I already think some big improvements have been made. I’m seeing more and more restaurants closing for three days a week, to allow chefs to have more of a balance. I think that’ll be key to the future of the industry.
What trends do you predict for the future?
I think the trend for conscious dining will continue to grow as more people become concerned about the traceability of ingredients. More than ever, diners are asking about how sustainable dishes are.
Sustainability was a key focus for this year’s Toque d’Or competition. It covered three main areas: sustainable food, sustainable careers and a sustainable future for the industry. I really do believe that as chefs we have a duty to support all aspect of sustainability.
What is your biggest ambition?
My own restaurant would be the long-term goal, but at the moment I just want to continue to learn from the best in the industry, cook good, honest food and be able to pass on my knowledge and experiences to other chefs.