College graduate dreams of opening restaurant after competing in the Culinary Olympics

Having recently completed an SVQ in Professional Cookery, 20-year-old Simon Perkins will be competing in the 2024 Culinary Olympics in Germany. We spoke to Simon to find out more about his journey, and his plans for the future.

13 November 2023 - SQA - Categories: General

Features and developments

My professional cooking journey began at Edinburgh college when I was 15 years old. I undertook a National Progression Award (NPA) while still at school, travelling to the college every Tuesday and Thursday. I wasn’t the best at school, and at times would act like the class clown. During one of my college days, my lecturer, Chris, pulled me in to his office and told me that if I kept going the way I was, I wouldn’t finish the course or progress on to the next one – that was a day I’ll never forget and since then I’ve tried to be the best I can be.

When I left school at 16, my mum said I better have a plan, so decided to pursue college full-time to follow my passion for cooking. With a few things going on at home, I treated cooking as something to focus on.

My college journey

I spent a total of five years at college, progressing through SCQF levels 4, 5, 6 and 7. The earlier courses included learning how to prepare different vegetables, soups, and classic traditional dishes. I also developed front of house training, learning the other side of hospitality, like how to prepare hot and cold beverages. When I began the Scottish Vocational Qualification (SVQ) at SCQF level 6, my love for cooking really started. I learned everything from butchery to fish, then created my own menu to deliver to customers at the EH15 Restaurant within Edinburgh College.

I did debate whether to do the last year at SCQF level 7. After doing four years at college already, I could have started working full time, however this final course allowed me to study patisserie and confectionery in detail. It involved tempering chocolate, sugar marzipan, and creating my own dessert menu. I’m very glad I decided to stay on and complete this qualification!

The most challenging few years were during the pandemic, as there was a lot of online learning about Health and Safety, and in-depth descriptions of products and allergies. I believe this theory work was vital though, as it allowed me to gain a real understanding of the hospitality industry as a whole, and of course safety is vital.

Looking back on my highlights

I had so many highlights during my time studying, including cooking with the Scottish National Culinary team, cooking at events at Prestonfield Hotel, travelling to Luxemburg with the Scottish National Culinary team, and living in Dinard, France as part of a class exchange to learn about French culture and cuisine.

In 2022, I worked with the Scottish Culinary Team at a dinner of 120 people, as the team practiced for the 2022 Culinary World Cup in Luxembourg. I was there to help them as much as I could, which then led to me being asked to join them on the road to the World Cup. During competition week, I called checks to the team as they competed in one of the largest cooking competitions in the world. For 2024, I will officially be a junior member of the team and will be competing in the Culinary Olympics in Stuttgart, Germany in January! It’s a privilege to even be part of it. The amount I can learn from the team is limitless.

This year, I was also one of 20 young chefs selected out of hundreds of applicants from across the UK to compete in Nestlé Professional’s Torque d’Or competition in London, where I was tasked with creating a recipe for a sustainable seafood dish, before making and presenting the dish before competition judges.

My recipe was a trout dish that used cauliflower three different ways to ensure there was no wastage. I baked the trout and had a cauliflower crumb, puree and used the stock to show my skill for using every bit of the produce to its maximum, finishing it with a smoked butter sauce and some fresh langoustines.

In recognition of my achievements, I was awarded the SQA Outstanding Student Award for Professional Cookery and Hospitality in 2023. These courses and my time at college have been a huge part of my life, so it’s really nice to be recognised for my hard work.

Goals for the future

I really recommend every course I took at Edinburgh College, and I hope to inspire others with my story. I hope it shows that if you are scared to take opportunities, you should just go for it and look where you can end up.

In the future, I’d love to travel the world to learn new skills and experience different cultures. I already have an offer already on the table from a chef based in France, who I met during my class exchange trip to Dinard!

My end goal is to open my own restaurant in the East Lothian area. I hope that with a lot of hard work, and learning in the best kitchens with great chefs, luck comes my way and I’m able to make this a reality.