Mary Palecek, Sous Chef, at our Warwickshire hotel, Woodside, has recently been named Best Young Conference Hotel Chef in the World at the prestigious IACC Copper Skillet Competition in America. She's also the European and UK Champion!
In an interview below, we catch up with Mary...
You’re now the UK, European and Global Junior Champion, how does it feel?!
It feels great! To be honest I didn’t see it happening at all so I was really surprised by the whole thing.
The Copper Skillet Competition is a timed cook-off, how do you decide what you’re going to make in such a short period of time? What’s going through your mind?
To be completely honest when the ingredients get unveiled I just stay as chilled out as possible, imagine I’m looking in my fridge at home and only have half an hour to make something that me and my boyfriend will both enjoy. Obviously with it being a competition you have to step it up a notch so I like to focus on colour, textures and make sure everything is seasoned well.
How did you feel when they announced that you were the winner?
Surprising! I honestly thought one of the other guys had it in the bag so to hear my name was a pretty good feeling. It's the greatest achievement of my career so far.
How did your career as a chef begin? When did you first know you wanted to be a chef?
Being a chef wasn’t something I always wanted to do. I started my A Levels and realised that it just wasn’t for me so I looked at college courses and the one that stood out was the catering course. I joined up and it turned out to be the best 3 years! From there I started at the very bottom as a pot wash and since then I have moved around and pushed myself to progress and learn as much as I can to enable me to get to where I am now.
What’s the best thing about your job?
The team! Out of any kitchen I’ve ever worked in I have never known a team to get on so well, have great banter and get the job done. Credit to our Head Chef Iain Miller.
Do you have a signature go-to dish? What do you enjoy cooking the most?
I don’t have a favourite dish, due to the setup of the menus with it being a conference venue, the dishes change weekly if not daily so it doesn’t really give you the chance to build on the one dish. I enjoy learning new techniques, flavour pairings and incorporating those into the food we serve where possible. When I eventually find a signature dish, I will let you know.
Who/What is your biggest influence?
My parents, they have been so supportive through everything I have done. I owe it all to them.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring chefs?
Work hard! Find a head chef who you can learn a lot from.
Which famous chef would you like to cook with and why?
Ken Hom. I love Chinese food and would want tips from the master.
What is your idea of the perfect last meal? Where would you go to get it?
Anything Greek, I love Greek food! I’d go to Greece!
What’s next? Do you have any other competitions in your sights?
Not at the minute, I’m learning as much as I can from the position I am in now and I will see where that takes me.