Recipe for success: Chef’s course opens the world to award-winning student

At 19, Joe Slater is busy packing his bags for France to spend a ski season in Val d’Isere as a chalet chef.

It’s something his younger self couldn’t have imagined doing. At school in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, Slater knew A-levels weren’t for him, but was unsure of his next step.

“I wasn’t a big fan of the school,” he said. “I’m an active person and really only liked sports, art and food. I was considering a sports-related course, then someone suggested I take a look at Westminster Kingsway College.

The open day was a revelation. With his national reputation and “incredible” facilities, including two restaurants – a brasserie and a dining experience – that catering students run daily, Slater realized that his enjoyment of food and cooking could be key to his coming.

Despite the prospect of an hour and a half drive to and from college, he enrolled in the three-year Professional Chef Diploma course and never looked back.

The highlight came earlier this year when Slater was selected to represent England at the International Young Chef Olympiad.

Joe Slater, who participated in the International Young Chefs Olympiad

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Competing with chefs from more than 40 countries, the student placed fourth overall and his agnolotti pasta received the prize for the best vegetarian dish of the competition.

“I practiced this dish over and over again – we put it on the brasserie menu – and it paid off,” Slater said. “It was such an amazing experience and I couldn’t believe I was chosen for it.”

Her advice to other teens making choices at 16 is to think about what you love, beyond school subjects.

“I used to cook at home, mostly baking,” he said. “I worked in a small bakery when I was in school and while I was in college I got a part-time job at the Checkers Inn in Weston Turville. The head chef helped me really helped and inspired.

“With work and college, and the commute, it was a big commitment, but I was willing to put in the time because of the opportunities it could open up.”

As he develops menus for the ski company he will work for in France, Slater has no fear of being solely responsible for providing delicious meals for dozens of people. As a non-skier, however, he worries about his performance on the slopes.

“I’m going with my girlfriend, who skis,” he says. “She takes care of the reception and I’ll do the cooking, but I’ll definitely take some ski lessons before I start working.”