A chef's calling

Ronnel Ronnel Nulud, competition first-timer and recently appointed Sodexo Chef of the Year 2020, explains what it takes to be crowned a champion.

My first experience of Sodexo Chef of the Year was daunting, to say the least. The competition pits the crème de la crème of Sodexo’s culinary community against each other for a chance to win the prestigious title, with our dishes being scrutinised and judged by 11 peers and industry experts.

The competing chefs were asked to develop a sustainable and plant-forward menu, with an entirely plant-based starter and all three courses incorporating ingredients from WWF and Knorr’s ‘Future 50 Foods’.

My challenges

As someone of Asian heritage, I have loved eating dim sum dumplings since I was a child. I’d always ask my mother to make them for dinner. But I am used to cooking with butters and fats to bring a deep flavour to my dishes, so I was worried about the lack of animal products in my starter of vegetable and soybean dim sum.

But I researched and took advice from friends in the industry, serving something out of my comfort zone that delivered on both flavour and the competition’s requirements. I was surprised by the judges’ high praise for my dim sum and miso broth.

Winning the title

Being awarded the title of Chef of the Year means so much to me. After all my hard work it was great to be recognised as someone that can stand up with the best of the best at Sodexo. I don’t often get chance to reflect on how far I have come and look forward to what the future may bring; it has been refreshing to take stock, recognise my own abilities and share knowledge with future competitors.

My top tips to be the best chef

  1. Perfect your abilities
    The best chefs never want to stop learning new things; we should never stop developing ourselves and perfecting our craft. Surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals also helps. Competing in the Chef of the Year competition made me realise how much, as chefs, we like to push our skills to impress each other and our diners. I thought I would envy the other chefs’ talents, but in the end, I was inspired to push myself further in future.
     
  2. Hone your communication skills
    As English isn’t my first language, the past eight years have been a learning curve for me to understand the nuances that help me perform better in a busy English-speaking environment. Without clear communication, the quality of service can be dramatically affected, so whatever you communicate should be 100 per cent clear to avoid yourself and others making mistakes and adding to kitchen stresses.
     
  3. Deliver on promises
    One of the reasons I love my job is that I’m able to work closely with clients to deliver their catering needs to a high standard. As a hospitality head chef, it is my responsibility to make sure the food and service that we provide is the best we can offer and delivers to the client’s expectations. By setting this high standard, my team and I have built an amazing customer relationship that allows us to push our own culinary skills and go above and beyond what is expected.
     
  4. Prize honesty
    Being transparent with your customer, team and suppliers is so important. Respecting the ingredients I use is very important – you not only want to treat the product well for a good return, but also use seasonal ingredients to support local suppliers. Honesty with these dealers will help form the relationships you need to get the best ingredients and deliver the highest-quality menus.
     
  5. Be determined
    Looking back on my career, I never imagined myself as the 2020 Sodexo Chef of the Year. We all have room to grow, so have the confidence to push yourself, safe in the knowledge that one day all those tears, cuts, burns, sweat, time and effort will pay off – the secret is a chef’s passion and loving what you do. 

Ronnel Nulud is hospitality head chef, Energy & Resources for Sodexo UK & Ireland

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