I’ve been a bit quiet on here of late, mostly down to the fact that I’ve been busy getting ready for the Regional Final of Future Chef 2013 and haven’t had time to make much other than my dishes…or at least haven’t had the time to blog about them.
Future Chef is a nationwide cooking competition for 12-16 year olds run by charity Springboard that I’ve participated in for the last three years. In 2011 I made it to the regional final in Birmingham, got good feedback, learnt a lot and was determined to return victoriously the following year. I entered again in 2012, got to the Regional Final and left with that feeling of ‘so close yet so far’. I created a new dish with the help of the mentor chef that Springboard had introduced me to the year before and practised it about a million times, I got there and I experienced something new to me: Nerves. I’m a pretty chilled out person, I’m not easily phased, I walk into exams feeling as worried as when I walk into Tesco’s, I don’t panic in a crisis and my heart rate is weirdly low for someone who hates long distance running. But I remember being nervous on that day, I wanted it really badly, there’s a competitive streak inside of me and I wasn’t willing to settle for less that first place. The hour and a half of cooking is a blur of heat, splattered tuile biscuits, overcooked veal and tears. And if there’s one thing more out of character for me than nerves, it’s crying. In public. I came third. The worst part? I knew what I’d done wrong before it had even been judged. I’d messed up the things that had always gone perfectly when I’d practised.
I’ll admit, I left that heat annoyed at myself and upset. I wanted to throw the towel in for a few hours but if there’s something I’m not, it’s a quitter. If I do something, I don’t so it by halves, I do it to be the best and I won’t give up until I’m at the top. As soon as I got home that day I was on the internet looking for inspiration for a new dish that would get me to that illusive National Final in the last year that I was eligible to enter.
It came around quicker than you’d think and in January, in the midst of the first batch of this year’s exams, I found myself going into the Local heat having practised my menu once. Yes, once. It wasn’t the best I could have done it and I knew that but it was good enough to get me back to that Regional Final. My nemesis. And I was adamant this would be it, it was my last shot at it. I knew what I had to do this time.
I went into the kitchen this morning and the first thing I got asked was: “Are you nervous?” I thought for a second,”Um, no.” I replied. It wasn’t because I was cocky or confident that I would win but I was back to myself. I was proud of the menu I’d devised with little outside help, I was ready and I was calm. I’d give it a shot and hope for the best.
And I stood back once I’d put my plates up for judging, my station looking a lot less chaotic than it had at that point my previous year and rather than the feeling of self-annoyance, imperfection and oncoming tears, I stood there and I smiled. I’d done what I could, it was the best I’d made it so far and there were few thing’s that hadn’t gone to plan. I was relieved.
The nerves only returned when I stood waiting for the results to be read out, knowing it could well have been over for me. “And in third place…” I listened as my name wasn’t read out. I had a chance. “Second place is…” Not me. I’d done it. I waited for three years and I finally heard those words: “First Place: Laura.”
My aim was always to get to the National Final in London and I’ve done it. And it’s only reinforced my belief that if you try hard enough and try enough times at something, if you want it enough, you’ll get there eventually. Good things come to those who wait.
I’ve fulfilled my original goal but is there a part of me that wants to be crowned Future Chef 2013? To be number one from over 8000 people that entered? To win?
Of course there is.