Two Coleg y Cymoedd learners make the finals of prestigious UK chef competition

Two young bakers from the south Wales valleys have made it to the finals of a national competition designed to find the UK’s top young pastry chef.

Coleg y Cymoedd learners Mali Leese, 18, from Merthyr Tydfil, and Jack Morris, 18, from Caerphilly, are the only Welsh finalists in this year’s Chef’s Forum Student Pastry Chef of the Year competition.

The pair will compete against each other, as well as six other talented young chefs from across the UK, at a grand final in West London College on Wednesday 10th May, to secure the coveted title of top pastry chef.

They will have to impress a panel of 11 judges, made up of some of the country’s best professional pastry chefs, including TV stars Cherish Finden and Benoit Blin, from Channel 4’s Bake Off: The Professionals.

Now in its third year, the Student Pastry Chef of the Year competition is open to students and apprentices currently studying hospitality or catering courses or apprenticeships. Developed in response to the current shortage of highly skilled young pastry chefs, it aims to showcase the great young talent present in UK colleges and universities.

The winner of the competition will take home a range of prizes including a voucher from commercial catering equipment supplier, Mitchell & Cooper, a £300 voucher from Wedgwood, and a number of products from Henley Bridge – a leading provider of ingredients for baking and pastry chef professionals.

During the final, Mali and Jack will need to design and create a plated dessert, which must use a specific mold and include passionfruit puree, for a taste and visual assessment by the expert judges.

Their achievement making the finals comes after another Coleg y Cymoedd learner, Josie Wheeler, won last year’s competition, inspiring the two to apply, and marking a strong year of catering success for the college.

Jack, a current level 3 patisserie learner at Coleg y Cymoedd’s Nantgarw campus, is no stranger to competition success, having won gold at last year’s Skills Wales Patisserie and Confectionary contest last year.

He said: “I have always loved baking, having grown up learning how to bake with my nan, and I am really enjoying my patisserie course as it’s something I am passionate about. Winning a gold award last year at the Skills Wales competition was a real highlight and I feel it was good practice for me ahead of the student pastry chef awards. It has helped set me up and put me in a more confident position for them and I hope I can continue that success.”

Mali, who is currently studying a level 3 professional cookery course at Cymoedd’s Aberdare campus, has dreams of becoming a professional pastry chef and plans to complete a dedicated patisserie qualification at college next year.

Entering her first competition earlier this year – the Skills Wales Patisserie and Confectionary contest – where she won silver, Mali also took part in the Welsh International Culinary Championships in February, filling in last minute for another learner who had to drop out due to personal reasons. Despite having only eight days to train, she impressively managed to secure one bronze, two silver and two ‘best in class’ awards.

Mali added: “I love cooking which is why I chose to do a cookery course, but I also love making sweet dishes – I found myself making a lot of desserts during my level 2 course and I’m always baking at home. I’m looking forward to also doing a patisserie course to expand and develop my skills further.

“I didn’t have the confidence to enter any competitions until this year when I decided to just go for it. I’ve got a mix of nerves and excitement about the final as I’ll need to adjust to a new kitchen and working environment and I’ll be presenting my desserts to judges from top restaurants around the country. It’s a once in a lifetime experience though and it’s an amazing feeling knowing I’ve been chosen as one of only eight!”

Speaking about Jack and Mali’s success, Benjamin Barnett, hospitality and catering lecturer at Coleg y Cymoedd, said: “The fact that Jack and Mali have been recognised as being among the top eight young pastry chefs in the UK just goes to show the level of talent these two have. They have both put in a lot of work and are so deserving of this achievement – we wish them the best of luck! Having not one but two learners from Coleg y Cymoedd make it this far, and being the only college in Wales to reach the final for the second year in a row, makes us very proud.

“It has been a phenomenal year for catering at Coley y Cymoedd in terms of competition success. In the last 12 months, we have won gold and silver culinary and confectionary awards at the Skills Wales competition, achieved 19 medals at the Welsh International Culinary Championships, had a new learner come runner up in the Junior Chef of Wales competition, and have become the first Welsh college to have a team make the semi finals of the young restaurant team of the year competition!”

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