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Passion powers Izzy from Ipswich

When Covid brought Izzy Willis' 10-year career as a barista to an end, and she decided to become a chef, she never thought she’d win the Apprentice Chef of the Year award.

"I wanted to be a chef but didn't know how to become one. Then, I saw a Facebook ad from my favourite pub, looking for an apprentice."

"So, I reached out, had an interview that day, completed a trial that weekend, and was immediately offered a job," explained Izzy.

Part of her apprenticeship was training with TAFE Queensland to study the Certificate III in Commercial Cookery (SIT30816), which saw her attend weekly classes to enhance her culinary skills.

"My teachers are best – they bring so much real-world experience to the classroom. They still work in the industry and give us expert insights that help prepare us. It's such a supportive environment. Coming to class is the highlight of my week."

Izzy also credits the balance of theory and practical for enhancing her cooking skills and expanding her culinary knowledge.

"When I started, I knew nothing. But learning things like molecular gastronomy, trussing a chicken, filleting fish, and other these that you wouldn't get to do in your work kitchen was incredible."

"I also loved the theory - we have great resources, and you can always email your teachers any questions to fill in any knowledge gaps. Then, you put the theory into practice in the classroom."

The classroom she mentions is an industry-standard kitchen which she describes as a critical reason her training enabled her to change career and win the prestigious apprentice of the year award.

"The kitchens are world-class, with each station having a combi oven, gas stove, and grill. We've got five marble benchtops and an induction stove in the pastry kitchen alone. We have everything we need to become chefs."

Each week, Izzy would take the skills she learned in class back to her work kitchen, helping her to imbed her new cookery skills to get better each week.

"Studying is the best thing I've ever done. I've successfully changed careers, enhanced my skills and made amazing friends – it's been great."

Her new skills won her the Apprentice Chef of the Year award after she competed against eight other apprentices in a master chef style battle, creating three dishes from a mystery box of ingredients.

While she felt good about the written component of her entry, Lizzie says the practical assessment was an entirely different challenge.

"I felt out of my depth and kept thinking, 'here I am, Izzy from Ipswich, a just turned second-year apprentice with zero culinary competition experience but a lot of passion' as I brought my ideas to life."

"Creating an entree, a main and a dessert from a mystery box of ingredients, knowing that I was being judged on my technical skills, presentation, taste, flavour balance, and overall skill levels was daunting!"

But her passion came through, with her herby rice pilaf entrée, purple gnocchi and seared pork loin mains and shortcrust tart with orange and chocolate creme, topped with hazelnut praline, sealed her victory.

"I couldn't have been happier with my dishes, and I wouldn't have won without the guidance and patience of my my chefs, Matt and Sean from Falvey's Hotel in Yamanto, Ipswich. They helped prepare me by keeping me calm before the competition."

Izzy was nervous during the annual awards dinner, particularly when her name wasn’t announced for early awards.

"I thought I'd win something, but I was shocked when they announced me as the overall winner. I didn't expect it, and it felt incredible, amazing and wonderful all at once – I cried on stage."

A passionate advocate for the farm-to-table ethos, Izzy now utilises produce sourced from local farmers and food makers in Scenic Rim.

"This apprenticeship was the best thing I've ever done, and I'm so proud to be a chef. This is just the start of my journey, and I can't wait to see where it takes me," she said.

“Thanks to my training, I'm now bringing Scenic Rim flavours to at Falvey's Hotel and I love it - it’s a privilege to work in the kitchen.”

Her dream career is to continue advocating for the Scenic Rim food scene and one day become a teacher to train apprentices chefs of the future.

"I hope to get a training and assessment qualification and one day teach and inspire the next generation of chefs," concluded Izzy.