Proud to Be a Chef International Culinary Scholarship winner Joel Noble looks back on his ‘once in a lifetime’ experience
ENTRIES ARE NOW OPEN for the 2020 Proud to Be a Chef program – Australia’s leading foodservice mentoring program.
Each year 32 apprentice chefs are chosen out of entries received from all over Australia to participate in a once in a lifetime experience: four days of an all expenses paid journey that embraces masterclasses, skills workshops, dining at prominent restaurants and invaluable networking opportunities with peers, industry leaders and program mentors.
Proud to Be a Chef culminates in the award of an International Culinary Scholarship valued at $7,500, presented to the standout finalist and tailored to their personal interests and professional goals. This year’s scholarship winner is Joel Noble, currently working with Dan Hunter at Brae restaurant in Birregurra, Vic, who decided to enter after seeing a Proud to Be Chef advertisement on Instagram.
“I had known a chef who had participated in the program and said it was a great experience and that I should try to enter it because you learn a lot,” Joel recalls. “But to be honest I didn’t put my application in until the last minute – I was sitting in a café and there was just time to submit it right before the deadline. I finally decided, what do I have to lose – I’ll give it a shot!”
People often perform at their best under pressure and certainly Joel’s application impressed the judges sufficiently for him to be selected as one of the 32 finalists. “When I found out I’d been accepted I was very surprised, even overwhelmed … I’m not a big fan of cooking competitions as such because you rock up and cook and you’re judged simply on how you perform on the day. But Proud to Be a Chef is not like that, it’s a four day mentoring program. It’s not about having one winner or saying ‘look at me, I cooked the best dish’ – it’s an ongoing learning experience and all the finalists are already winners by virtue of having been selected. That was my opinion going into it and it’s still very much my opinion now.”
The 2019 Proud to Be a Chef program included hands-on education trips to a dairy farm and butter factory, a winery, food markets and restaurant kitchens as well as intensive masterclasses from leading industry chefs, restaurateurs and program mentors. Joel describes it as “an amazing learning experience and an amazing social experience too … straight away you’re in a room with 32 other apprentices, so you all have something in common off the bat. It’s easy to talk to each other because you’re already on common ground.”
The initial program session was a workshop with former AFL sportsman Wayne Schwass, the founder of social enterprise Puka Up which raises awareness of issues around mental health and building resilience in the workplace. “Making that the opening workshop of the program was a very smart move because it broke the ice for everyone,” Joel says.
“So much was packed into the four days that learning became a constant focus. And because you’re not in the high pressure kitchen environment, there’s more time to ask questions. The mentors were really fantastic and so well-suited to the program – they all took the time to have a chat with you about whatever it was in food that took your interest. They were really generous with their time. They all brought their own different aspects and I loved hearing all their stories, from Scott Pickett and Christy Tania to Peter Wright and Charlie Carrington.
Charlie’s story in particular resonated with me – he went and did a stage in London when he was 16 and now he’s a chef and restaurant owner at 25.
“And the opportunity to eat out at restaurants like Matilda 159 Domain and Atlas was fantastic – we all love food, and to have dinners at these restaurants and talk to their chefs was just as much a learning experience as the masterclasses.”
Joel’s win of the Proud to Be a Chef International Culinary Scholarship, announced on the program’s final night, came as a surprise. “I definitely wasn’t expecting it,” he confirms. He will be interning at Bo.Lan, esteemed as one of Bangkok’s best restaurants, but has had to postpone his stage due to a bad dose of flu. “I’m actually gutted I had to put it off,” he admits, adding: “I grew up in Bangkok but I didn’t really appreciate it when I was young, so I’m looking forward to going back as an adult and seeing it in a different light. Bo.Lan does Thai food the way it should be, it’s not dumbed down for tourist tastes. It’s the best of authentic Thai so it will be a real contrast from our European style cuisine.”
Joel adds that he was struck by how well organised the program was. “Right from when we arrived at the airport to when we said goodbye on the last day, everything was so precisely timed that it went without a hitch. Honestly my hat goes off to the organisers at Anchor Food Professionals and everyone behind the scenes. It was flawless – there was never a time when I thought, ‘they haven’t worked this out properly’. I’ve spoken to many apprentices since and I tell them they should go for it and enter. More than anything, it really expands your horizons – you get to talk to so many industry leaders.
“I would say to anyone considering entering, don’t hesitate – a lot of apprentices say ‘I don’t know if I’m good enough’, but everyone has those self-doubts. Don’t doubt yourself, just do it.”
You can read more details about Proud to Be a Chef, including the announcement of next year’s program mentors, in our culinary competitions and further education article or visit proudtobeachef.com.