A former catering student is on a fast track in her career after winning a worldwide competition and securing three promotions in just five years.
Mary Palecek, 25 secured a job as a commis chef at Sundial Group's Highgate House in Creaton as she came to the end of her Level 3 catering course at Northampton College. Five years on, and Mary has managed to work her way up through the kitchen to chef de parti, senior chef de parti and more recently sous chef, also moving to work at Sundial’s well-established Warwickshire conference venue, Woodside, during that time.
Her talent and strong work ethic sets her aside in the kitchen and her head chef was so impressed he even entered her into the junior category of a celebrated international catering challenge – Global Copper Skillet Competition – where she scooped the winning title.
Mary said, “Winning the competition has been a highlight of my career so far. I had heard about it but never felt confident enough to put myself forward. I have always been keen to learn new skills and cooking is my passion but to enter a global competition like that can be a bit daunting. I am not a nervous person but it was a scary prospect. I went in with the mind-set of getting the experience rather than winning and it paid off because I actually beat everyone to the top.”
Mary travelled to UCLA Meyer & Renee Luskin Conference Center in Los Angeles to compete. She was up against chefs from IACC Americas, Australia-Asia-Pacific and European member venues but it was her dish of sautéed courgette and aubergine, poached sea bass, pan fried sirloin, red pepper, tomato and coriander salsa, heritage carrots and caramelised shallots that wowed the judges.
Mary believes the skills she learnt as a catering student at the College is what has helped her progress quickly through her career and she is now looking to gain as much experience as she can as a sous chef before possibly becoming a head chef in the long-term future.
She explained, “Looking back it is what I learnt at Northampton College that has given me the basis for my career so far. You are taught to be hands-on and given practical experience from the word go. Lecturers encourage you to push yourself out of your comfort zone which is what you need to do to be a good chef. Like when we were serving paying customers in the college restaurant, it’s all practical experience that sets you up for work. You can’t learn to be a chef in the classroom, it has to be practical too so I learnt the basics which I’ve since developed at Highgate House and now at Woodside.
“I want to continue to perfect my skills and who knows what the future holds. For now I am happy gaining as much experience as I can at Woodside as it’s a fantastic place to work and the head chef is very inspiring so I am learning lots.”