Chef Nicolle wins Royal Appointment

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A young chef from Clarkston has won the opportunity to cook for 350 guests at a party at Britain’s oldest royal palace later this month after she gained praise from Royalty at a canapé competition at Buckingham Palace.

Seventeen-year-old Nicolle Finnie, a former pupil of Williamwood High School, will form part of the City of Glasgow College team tasked with preparing finger food for esteemed guests at St James’s Palace on April 21 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Craft Guild of Chefs. The college team won the right to do so after impressing HRH The Countess of Wessex and Mark Flanagan, the royal chef, at a cook-off at Buckingham Palace at the end of March.

Nicolle combines studying towards an HNC Professional Cookery qualification at City of Glasgow College with work as a chef at Glasgow’s celebrity haunt One Devonshire Gardens. She and her colleagues received the compliments of Sophie, Countess of Wessex, and saw off competition from two rival colleges to claim the opportunity to demonstrate their culinary prowess to party-goers at St James’ Palace.

“The experience was unbelievable,” said Nicolle. “The Countess of Wessex came through around 15-20 minutes towards the end of our preparations and we explained all our canapés to her, telling her what they were and how we came up with the ideas. Because we had so little time, we prepared dishes that we’d already practised in college and made them in smaller sizes. We wanted to have a variety of fish, meat and vegetarian options, as well as dessert, with lots of different flavours. The Countess said they were lovely, tasted good, and looked great.

“My personal favourite was the goat’s cheese and beetroot – it had such strong flavours and colours.”

Nicolle is now steeling herself to serve hundreds of guests at St James’s Palace, constructed in the mid-1500s, later this month.

“It still doesn’t feel it’s actually happened,” she said. “We were in such a rush during the competition at Buckingham Palace and didn’t really hit us until after we had finished. It only hit us once it was revealed that we’d won.

“I felt under a lot more pressure than usual when cooking for the countess. Although every time I cook, I want it to be perfect, I felt it had to be that bit better than usual. Even though we didn’t have to make lots of food, it felt like a lot of food and it had to be spot on.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I would love to do something like that again. I’m part of the Worldskills team [which competes in the ‘culinary Olympics’] at City of Glasgow College now, and this experience will be great for me.

“If I’d stayed at school, I would be in sixth year now. I certainly didn’t think that, by leaving school at this age, I would get so many great experiences and opportunities at college so soon.”

Gary Maclean, a lecturer in City of Glasgow College’s School of Food Studies, who led the student team to victory at Buckingham Palace, was full of praise for his protégés.

He said: “It was a fantastic experience leading the team to the finals of this amazing competition, a true once-in-a-life time opportunity for my students and myself. Winning the competition was unbelievable and to beat Britain’s best and bring the title back to Scotland is a real highlight for everyone involved. We are all looking forward to the event at St James’s Palace in April, where we will recreate the winning canapés for some of the world greatest chefs.”

Nicolle is picture in the royal kitchen at Buckingham Palace, alongside Sophie The Countess of Wessex, in black, the royal chef Mark Flanagan beside the countess, sporting the distinctive royal monogram ‘ER’ on his chef’s whites. Other pictures are in the college kitchen preparing canapes and trying out potential recipes for the royal palate.