Ashleigh was selected for Squad UK after winning a Gold Medal in Culinary Arts at last year’s National Finals. She explains how taking part in our competitions has helped her perform at a world-class standard and how she felt being selected for Squad UK.
Cooking was an important part of life for Ashleigh Hellowell right from the start. “I first got into cooking when my mother showed me how to make pastry for the first time. It only took one time and I was hooked and that’s when I realised I wanted to pursue cooking as a career. Due to my mother working long hours I used to make sure tea was on the table for when she came home. This gave me an opportunity to experiment with food and flavours.”
Starting her career in food
It wasn’t long before Ashleigh would take her first steps to making her career wish come true. “When I was fifteen I took part in a cooking competition in which I was grateful enough to get to the finals in London which were held at Westminster Kingsway College. After the competition I spoke to a few people and they said they would love for me to do an apprenticeship, which I did, under Head Chef Steve Munkley at the Royal Garden Hotel London, finally making my dream come true. After I completed my two-year apprenticeship I went on to do a year at the University of West London achieving my Professional Pastry Level 3 Qualification.”
It was Head Chef Steve Munkley who encouraged Ashleigh to take the first step towards WorldSkills UK Competitions. ”After taking part in many competitions and representing the Royal Garden Hotel, he asked me if I was up for the challenge and without hesitation I said “yes of course!” I’m glad I did because it has been an amazing experience and has helped me so much already!
“I feel like I have learned so much that I can take away with me and use in my work environment and also share with my colleagues which will benefit them too.”
Ashleigh first started competing in June 2019 and in November that year took part in the National Finals at WorldSkills UK LIVE at the NEC Birmingham, winning a Gold Medal. “My favourite part was competing at the National Finals in such a big busy environment. it was different to all other competitions I have taken part in as I felt relaxed and could do what I do to a high standard. I also enjoyed meeting other competitors from different kitchens and backgrounds.”
Learning to be “the best me”
She adds, “I have learned a lot of terminology and what it takes to be a world standard competitor. I have also learned a lot about myself and how I can improve in a competition environment. Worldskills UK has also shown me tips and tricks to help me get to be ‘the best me’ and perform at a world standard.”
Ashleigh has gained benefits that go beyond simply competing. “I feel like I have built my self-confidence as I feel like it is very low and sometimes I don’t believe in myself. I have also overcome challenges with my work with the help of my training manager and shown resilience.” These employability skills which alongside technical skills are highly valued by employers.
Being selected for Squad
Ashleigh is thrilled to have been selected as a member of Squad UK and is undergoing the skills set and mindset training that WorldSkills UK is renowned for, to be in the running for the chance to join Team UK in competing on the international stage. “Being selected was an amazing feeling. all the hard work paid off and it shows that practice and patience goes a long way. I feel like I made my family and friends proud which is another achievement in itself. My favourite part is getting to know the Worldskills UK team and also other competitors from different skills. I also love the uniform because it reminds me what I have achieved and how far I have come.”
Ashleigh thinks that increasing the wages and having a reward scheme as part of apprenticeships would attract more young people to technical careers. “I think that younger people are more interested in money at that age than what they could learn. I also think employers should enter more people into competitions like WorldSkills UK to better their education and knowledge.”
Steve Munckley Head Chef at London’s Royal Garden Hotel has great praise for how Ashleigh has developed: “I first met Ashleigh when she was only fifteen, when she was a finalist in a national schools cookery competition. This for me already had her destined for a great career in chefing. A year later and after a week’s work experience I had found one of my most talented apprentices. Ashleigh has gone on to achieve great success in competitions and was one of only four Achievers of the ‘Craft Guild of Chefs Graduate Award 2019’.
“She has steadily progressed through the ranks of the brigade and is a valuable talented member of the team. Always a team player, handling the pressure of an extremely busy and varied kitchen with ease and capable of working on any section. A great member of the Royal Garden family and a chef to watch for the future.”