Young Welsh Chef in VQ Learner of the Year final

Posted on by karen.smith

Leo Hacker

Young chef Leo Hacker, who is proving himself in the heat of the kitchen at a five star London hotel after setting out on a Pathways to Apprenticeship course at Cardiff and Vale College (CAVC), is in the running for a national award.

As a result of his learning success, Leo, 18, has been selected as a finalist in the EU-backed VQ Learner of the Year Award. The final takes place on June 5 – VQ Day – at a ceremony to be held at Coleg Morgannwg, Nantgarw in South Wales.

He will be up against champion Welsh butcher Tomi Jones from Llangollen and Helen Wynne, of Blythswood Childminding Services in Wrexham.

Leo, who now works for Royal Garden Hotel, Kensington, London, soon showed signs of his potential after joining CAVC. During his Pathways to Apprenticeship placement at the Hilton Hotel, Cardiff his supervisors said: “When we saw the passion and enthusiasm Leo applies to his tasks, it makes us remember why we became chefs.”

College work under mentor Kevin Fairlie together with additional experiences, such as preparing bespoke canapés for the opening of the new Bentley garage in Cardiff and working with the CAVC team in the exclusive Seafood and Champagne Bar at the 2012 London Olympics, have built his skills and broadened his ambition.

After winning Welsh FutureChef 2012 at 16, Leo represented Wales in the UK final where he was spotted by Steve Munkley, executive chef at the prestigious Royal Garden Hotel, London, and offered work experience.

Within the week he was offered the opportunity to move to London for an apprenticeship and place at University of West London. Now, just 18, he is completing Level 3 Professional Cookery and impressing his tutors with his high standards and commitment.

A fluent Welsh speaker, his next project is developing a range of bilingual visual tutorials for schools and colleges in Wales.

Leo said it had been a whirlwind year and praised the “amazing” support and encouragement he had received from CAVC. His ultimate goal is to “fly the Welsh flag” by opening a patisserie in France or a restaurant in New York.

Alun Ackerman, CAVC’s head of department, said: “Leo came to college aged 16 and achieved more in one year than many other students achieve in two or more years. His future looks extremely bright and he’s a shining example of what can be achieved whilst studying a vocational course at a further education college.”

VQ Day is designed to celebrate vocational skills and the success they bring, raise standards throughout Wales and identify and publicise exemplars. In addition, the awards highlight that vocational skills improve the performance of individuals and organisations and equip Wales with a world class workforce.

Vocational qualifications have never been more important to the economy and the individual, as they deliver the trained, talented employees businesses are crying out for and ensure young people have the skills needed to succeed in education and work.

Wales’ Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology, Jeff Cuthbert said: “It’s important that vocational qualifications become, and remain, first choice options for our brightest and best learners and that their worth is fully recognised. VQ Day plays a key role in securing that objective.

“Vocational qualifications haven’t always enjoyed the high-profile and public esteem that they deserve but, as employers will readily testify, they are immensely valuable in preparing people for successful careers in many different fields. They are the cornerstone of a competitive economy.

“One of my priorities since being appointed Deputy Minister has been to ensure that vocational qualifications are recognised alongside academic qualifications for their value to the individual and society.

“That is why, following an independent review of qualifications, the Welsh Government is already taking steps to ensure that vocational qualifications remain relevant, valued and fit for the future.

“I hope that this year’s VQ Day will inspire even more individuals to consider a vocational pathway to success, further cementing the position of vocational qualifications at the heart of our economy and national life.”

VQ Day and the VQ Awards are co-ordinated in Wales by ColegauCymru and the National Training Federation for Wales (NTfW) with the support of the Welsh Government and part funded by the European Social Fund.

Three regional events in Wales will celebrate VQ Day by shining a spotlight on the quality, variety and diversity of vocational qualifications.

In North Wales, Deeside College’s Connah’s Quay Campus is arranging hands-on demonstrations of vocational skills assisted by a range of post-16 education and training providers.

The South West Wales Regional Learning Partnership will also provide hands-on opportunities at Aberavon Shopping Centre, Swansea City Centre and St Elli Shopping Centre in Llanelli. Local radio will be supporting the day across Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire, Swansea and Neath Port Talbot.

Apart from hosting the VQ Awards ceremony, Coleg Morgannwg’s Nantgarw Campus will bring education and training providers together with employers to lead workshops and hands-on opportunities.

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