Culinary Ability Awards – Promoting Inclusion The Culinary Ability Awards Team during practice. Photo: Culinary Ability Awards

The international non-profit organisation Culinary Ability Awards, founded by Chris Sandford, the Scottish Chef, WACS Juror and manager of the Irish National Culinary Team, in 2005, strives to use cooking as a vehicle to increase social awareness for people with disabilities and open up future opportunities for them in the gastronomic sector. With the CAA team, people with disabilities will take part in the IKA/Culinary Olympics for the first time in 2020.

So far, the Culinary Ability Awards organisation is unique in its field and is guided by the vision to integrate people with disabilities in every gastronomic outlet in the future, irrespective of the nature of their physical or mental impairment. In the 120-year history of the IKA/Culinary Olympics, the 2020 Culinary Ability Awards team is the first of its kind that is participating in this international culinary competition.

Chris Sandford. Photo: Culinary Ability Awards
Chris Sandford. Photo: Culinary Ability Awards

As an international gold medal winner and team manager of the Irish National Culinary Team, Chris Sandford says that he realised that people with disabilities have never had the possibility to participate in a culinary competition until now. This is why he initiated the Culinary Ability Awards: to promote and support these people, while also increasing people’s awareness of this issue. In times when skilled workers are scarce, it is difficult to fill open jobs with trained chefs, while young talents with a disability and the required passion are often overlooked as potential assets. Only 0.3% of all people training as chefs have a disability, because the apprenticeships are not adapted to them. These are Scottish statistics, however, surveys have revealed that people with disabilities are excluded in all segments of the labour market, since they are lacking the relevant qualifications. The Culinary Ability Awards aims at counteracting this lack of qualification and at integrating people with disadvantages in the regular labour market.

According to Chris Sandford, the regular training is often not adapted to the requirements of people with disabilities. Time is the greatest challenge. For financial reasons, many training programmes have a fixed timeframe. Consequently, there is no time available to dedicate some extra time to people with disabilities. It will still take time, before a more humane approach will be able to infiltrate the financial flows of culinary training. On the other hand, the re-categorisation of company canteen outlets may offer an opportunity for people with disabilities to focus more on the task than the dish itself. This allows for a better distribution of employees based on their different skills.

Ireland Photo: Francesca Hancox at UCB & Kevin Byrne of BCF
Photo: Culinary Ability Awards

How to become a team member? In general, competitions organised by suppliers are promoted for people with disabilities. After a number of internal pre-competitions, which are highly motivating and exciting for all parties involved, the applicants will undergo a selection process in which several different factors play a role. Chris Sandford explains: “In the short time since we have been informed of our participation in the IKA/Culinary Olympics in the Community Catering category, we have put together an international team. Our four members are from Germany, Ireland, Italy and Scotland and there will be one reserve member and four mentors accompanying them to the IKA/Culinary Olympics in Stuttgart.” The closer we get to attending the IKA/Culinary Olympics, the more excited we all are,” elaborates Chris. “The team is avidly looking forward to participating in such a high-level competition. To share our vision, to learn from other countries and to meet new people is what we look forward to the most.” The team has undergone a lot of training to present the menu in different formats. Since the international team consists of different nations, the participants rotate the training location between Germany, Ireland, Italy and Scotland. They continually improve, evaluate, test and – first and foremost – taste their creations. The 25th edition of the IKA/Culinary Olympics will hold a special place in the culinary annals, because for the very first time people with a disability will compete as a team in this competition. “We are delighted that the IKA/Culinary Olympics share our vision of inclusion,” says Chris. “The IKA/Culinary Olympics is a globally unique opportunity for our industry to show that there are no limits to people with impairments in terms of their skills, passion and dedication.”

The CAA team will enter the competition on 15th February between 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. in the Community Catering category.

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