Nestlé Professional Toque d’Or® finalists harvest key learnings in ‘farm-to-fork’ challenge in partnership with Sodexo

The 2024 Nestlé Professional Toque d’Or finalists learned all about the importance of regenerative agriculture and how hospitality plays an important role in supporting communities, in a bespoke ‘farm-to-fork’ challenge, which took place at Full Circle Farms (West Sussex), a partner to Sodexo Live! in the UK and Ireland.

The challenge was part of an action-packed Toque d’Or Grand Finals week, comprising a series of challenges built around the competition’s overarching theme of sustainability. Throughout the week, competitors were presented with the opportunity to hone their skills while exploring the latest culinary trends, enabling them to bridge the gap between classroom learning and the dynamic, fast-paced nature of the hospitality industry.

This year’s farm-to-fork challenge offered the 12 finalists – six back-of-house (BOH) and six front-of-house (FOH) – a chance to showcase their talent while embracing principles of sustainability and the importance of community support.

As a long-time partner to Nestlé (the competition organiser), Sodexo’s Corporate Services business proposed Full Circle Farms, a pioneering regenerative farm located in West Sussex as the location for one of the competition challenges. In 2021, driven by a shared commitment to fresh, locally sourced ingredients and environmental stewardship, Sodexo Live! forged a dynamic partnership with farmer Tom Morphew, founder of Full Circle Farms.

At the heart of the challenge lay a hands-on activity, where competitors ventured into the fields at Full Circle Farms to harvest ingredients for a true farm-to-fork culinary experience. Under the guidance and watchful eyes of Sodexo Live! culinary experts, Jules Frost-Wilson (Divisional Executive chef) and Ben Dutson (Food Innovation Director), the finalists were able to choose from a wide range of organic produce, to create a sustainable lunch for discerning guests.

Finalists heard from Sodexo Live! about its partnership with Full Circle Farms, and how hospitality plays an important role in supporting local communities. While Nestlé provided the competitors with an insight into the concept of regenerative agriculture, why it’s so important to the health of our planet, and how collaboration between hospitality businesses and farmers is key in ensuring a more regenerative food system for future generations.

With this knowledge the competitors moved swiftly into a competition mindset, with the finalists paired into teams for the challenge. The BOH competitors were tasked with creating a modern, street food inspired menu suitable for a matchday hospitality offer at a Premier League football stadium. This included a full plant-based offering as a starter and a tantalising fish-based dish cooked on a BBQ for the main course. By utilising ingredients directly sourced from Full Circle Farms, the finalists not only embraced the ethos of sustainability but also met the culinary expectations of a Premier League football stadium.

Meanwhile, the FOH challenge unfolded with equal enthusiasm, as competitors showcased their prowess in customer service and beverage innovation. From crafting welcome mocktails infused with farm-fresh herbs to mastering the art of a Mexican Mocha, every detail represented the importance of passion, knowledge and teamwork in the hospitality industry.

Judging the back-of-house finalists were Paul Hawkins, Nestlé Professional Development Chef; 2023 Toque d’Or finalist Emily Simkins; plus, from Sodexo Live! Ben Dutson, Food Innovation Director and Julian Frost Wilson, Divisional Executive Chef. And front-of house competitors were judged by 2021 and 2023 Toque d’Or winners Sophie Taylor and Josh Kerr.

The finalists were assessed on a wide range of criteria, including their approach to foraging ingredients, their teamwork skills when assembling the menus, and their understanding of regenerative agriculture.

Commenting on the event, Camila Cabral, Strategic Partnerships & Events Planning Lead at Nestlé Professional, said: “We’d like to thank Sodexo Corporate Services for enabling the collaboration with Sodexo Live! and Full Circle Farms to deliver this year’s farm-to-fork challenge during the Toque d’Or Grand Finals. It’s crucial to educate the next generation, our future industry leaders, on important topics like regenerative agriculture. And this year’s challenge demonstrated just how we can do that, through real-life experiences. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank our all of our partners for continuing to support the competition to help create unforgettable learning experiences for hospitality and catering students.”

Jade Boggust, Managing Director, Corporate Services at Sodexo UK & Ireland, said: “The commitment to sustainability and regenerative agriculture displayed by both the competitors and our partners at Nestlé Professional and Full Circle Farms was truly commendable. We are proud that together with our colleagues from Sodexo Live! we have helped create an enriching and impactful experience for all involved.

“As for the competitors, they exemplified the very best of our industry. Their passion and dedication to excellence were evident in every dish and interaction. I have no doubt that these talented individuals will continue to make significant contributions to the future of hospitality.”

Ben Dutson, Sodexo Live! Food Innovation Director, said: “It was a great day with lots of fun and some amazing food and drinks prepared by the next generation of super talented hospitality workers. Even the great British weather was kind to us!

“We have a strong and long-lasting relationship with Full Circle Farms because of Farmer Tom Morphew’s great work with the local community and his responsible attitude towards sustainability and protecting the planet. It was therefore a pleasure to extend our relationship with him and the farm to wider parts of the Sodexo business and their clients.”