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Le Cordon Bleu Master Chef, Julie Walsh shares her thoughts on being a National Chef of the Year judge

Chef Julie Walsh joined Le Cordon Bleu London in 1995, following an illustrious ten year career as a Pâtisserie chef at hotels across the UK and as Head Pastry Chef for premier event caterer Letherby & Christopher.

With a promotion to Head Pâtisserie Chef in 2006, Chef Julie has continued to add to her achievements, taking part in several international food festivals, appearing on TV and radio shows, and has also contributed to the many Le Cordon Bleu cookery books, such as Dessert Techniques, Home Collection and Professional Baking.

With boundless creativity, some of Chef Julie’s career highlights include the 15-tier, 25 ft high cake, for the Queen mother’s 100th birthday and most recently a four-tier replica of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth’s wedding cake for an exhibition on the history of royal wedding cakes.

Chef Julie has also taken part in many competitions at both national and international level, winning over 40 gold and silver medals for her work. She is a certified master craftsman of the Craft Guild of Chefs and a fellow of The Cookery and Food Association and of course an accredited judge for National Chef of the Year.

We speak to her about what it’s like to teach and judge at such a high level ahead of the National Chef of the Year semi-final which is taking place at Le Cordon Bleu on Wednesday 22nd June 2016.

How do you find being a judge now that you are a teaching chef?

As a teacher we are trained to look and analyse with a critical eye to improve our student’s performance and enhance their development. These skills are great to have when you judge a competition as you are still critiquing, as well as offering constructive feedback and advice, which goes hand in hand with teaching.

How important is it that Le Cordon Bleu remains heavily involved in National Chef of the Year, and what do you think it contributes to the professional industry?

National Chef of the Year helps to raise the profile of up-and-coming young chefs by allowing them to push their boundaries in this competitive atmosphere. Competing against their peers at this level enables them to see what other chefs are doing, raise their game if necessary and inevitably encourages them to develop their repertoire accordingly.

Le Cordon Bleu is the foremost culinary education institution in the UK and are proud to be linked to such a prestigious competition.

How does it feel to see some of the students that you’ve taught flourish into fantastic chefs who can compete at such high levels, some of whom will sit next to you on the panel?

When a student leaves Le Cordon Bleu and rises to the top of the profession it gives you such a great sense of achievement, because essentially you are achieving through them. For example, ex-students of mine include Hideko Kawa and Peggy Porschen who are now profiles in their own right and have important roles to play in their own fields – but judging side by side with them I will still get called Chef Julie!

How do you think competitions such as National Chef of the Year influence your students, particularly young females?

There really aren’t enough females in competitions like these! Females in this generation need to be encouraged to compete at a high level.

Even at National Chef of the Year it is rare to see more than one woman in the final, which really shows an imbalance seeing how many great female chefs there are in the industry. Female chefs, for example profiles like Clare Smyth and Angela Hartnett are fantastic role models for young female chefs and clearly demonstrate what you can achieve through hard work and determination – it’s so important for all female chefs to see what they can achieve.

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