Come Wednesday 27th May, Lorna Adekaiyaoja will be getting up before dawn to get on a 5am bus, heading south, to Brockenhurst College in New Forest, where the Wessex Salon Culinaire – one of Britain’s largest culinary competitions – is taking place.
The event is held in association with The Craft Guild of Chefs, and it is a fantastic platform for aspiring chefs like Lorna. She is currently doing her Level 2 in Professional Patisserie and Level 3 in Confectionery at South Thames College.
Hoping for medals
The Wessex Salon Culinaire will be her first national competition.
“I hope to come home with medals”, she says when we meet one quiet Friday afternoon in the café in the Pod2 soft play at YMCA Wimbledon. She makes me a delicious coffee, before continuing:
“Having achieved a merit in my examinations at South Thames College, I’ve been nominated along with a few other students to represent the college in the bake off competition”.
Lorna has been given a long list of items she will have to bake on the day of the competition, including several types of loaves, breads and rolls.
“I’m doing all sorts of breads and rolls,” she says. “Olive bread, wholemeal loaf, sage rolls, parmesan rolls and almond bread. I am going to be topping my white rolls with poppy seeds and sesame seeds. I’m even making vanilla bread, which is my very own recipe”.
She is also thinking about possibly doing a wedding cake, however although it certainly will look impressive, she is unsure if there will be enough time for such a complicated project on a day where time management and sticking to a carefully laid out plan is key.
“My strength is my speed,” Lorna says. “Hopefully no one can beat me on that. It’s all about accuracy and speed, and having a plan and sticking to it. As long as you have tasted your recipes beforehand, you know the taste will be fine. So it’s managing to get it all ready on time that’s the hardest bit”.
However, time keeping and working fast is not all it takes. When it comes to the actual judging, “innovation, flavour, creativity and presentation is what the judges look for,” Lorna says.
“The idea is also to go there to learn from it”, she says
She hopes that the items she presents in the competition will be considered improvements to already existing recipes on the market, and that eventually one day she can launch a product of her own that will become a commercial success.
Serving snacks and drinks in the Pod2
When she’s not in college or training for the bake off, Lorna works in the Pod2 café at YMCA Wimbledon, serving coffees and teas to the parents and snacks and drinks to the children visiting the popular soft play.
She started working for the YMCA in 2013 when the Pod2 opened. For Lorna, coming to the YMCA meant a career change (she had previously worked for the Croydon Metropolitan Police), however,
“I had always wanted to work in catering so when this opportunity came up I felt it was right to make that change in my career,” Lorna says.
At YMCA Wimbledon, she helps out wherever she’s needed. Most days are spent in the Pod2 café, however Lorna also helps preparing and serving the snacks for the After School Club and when the Pod2 closes at 5.30pm, she then moves on to help serving up the residents’ dinner.
The Healthy Schools Project
Lorna is also involved in the YMCA ‘s healthy schools project, a pilot project across schools in the east of Merton Borough, delivering healthy lifestyle sessions, exercise sessions and cooking classes for the whole family.
“The project is about creating awareness among children and their parents about fitness, healthy lifestyle and healthy cooking”, Lorna explains.
Alongside colleagues from the YMCA she delivers the cooking classes at one of the partnering schools.
Last week, homemade fish cakes was on the menu. “The children loved them!” Lorna says.
She adds that the parents too are very happy with the project.
“At one of the schools, we’ve got a child, a mum and a grandma from the same family taking part in the cooking sessions. It’s so nice seeing the three generations together, and the grandma told me she thinks it’s such a great idea”.
What’s so great about the cooking sessions, is that they cater for everyone, Lorna says: “We are not imposing anything on anyone, and if some of the children are vegetarian or only eat halal we have those options ready for them”.
Already a proven success, Lorna hopes the Healthy School Project will continue even after the pilot project finishes end of May.
However, the first thing she needs to focus on now, is bringing home those medals from the Wessex Salon Culinarire. YMCA St Paul’s Group wishes her the best of luck!