Reese Ventura named 2024 Champion of Springboard FutureChef

Slider image

© Jane Henderson Photography

Reese Ventura, 15 years old from St Philomena’s Catholic School for Girls in London, has been crowned the 25th champion of Springboard FutureChef, a competition to find the UK’s best young chef, beating more than 13,000 students from 515 schools.

The national final took place yesterday (Monday 18 March) at Westminster Kingsway College in London, with 12 talented school children from across the UK battling it out for the top spot.

During the final stage of the competition, the competitors had 2 hours and 45 minutes to prepare a main course and dessert for a panel of industry-leading judges including Adam Handling, Chantelle Nicholson, Graeme Cheevers and Kerth Gumbs.

Since winning her regional heat in London, Reese has worked with her mentor Chef Franky Fernandes, Executive Chef at London Marriott Hotel Park Lane, to hone her skills and create dishes that wowed the judges in every round, which included a main of mushroom stuffed chicken ballotine with caramelised cauliflower, fondant potato, purple sprouting broccoli, butternut squash and tarragon jus – and a deconstructed tiramisu consisting of cannoli, chocolate whipped ganache and coffee jelly.

Taking the crown, Reese will now receive ongoing support, development, and apprenticeship opportunities from Springboard, including the chance to have her recipes published.

On being crowned the Champion, Reese said: “I want to pinch myself to see if it’s real…I can’t believe I made it here. Even yesterday, people were asking me ‘do you want to be a chef?’ and I didn’t know. But since winning, it’s a sign to go into hospitality, and it will help me in the future.”

Head Judge and Michelin starred restaurateur Adam Handling said: “Reese’s attention to detail on every part of her components, in terms of seasoning and execution, was quite wonderful. Everything she did met the brief and beyond – so very well done.”

David Mulcahy, FutureChef Chairman and Food Innovation and Sustainability Director at Sodexo UK & Ireland, said: “Reese stepped above everybody else. It was a fantastic competition. 12 very, very close people in terms of their abilities. I can’t believe that a 14, 15, 16 year old can cook to that level, at that age. And she’s a worthy winner, but a tough competition – and what a great 25th celebration.”

Reese’s mentor, Franky Fernandes, said: “from Day one I believed in her. The first time I saw her cook I knew she would go a long way. And the important thing was, I knew she had that respect, the dedication, the commitment to learn, and it’s very easy to coach someone who has that passion.”

“She put in a lot of effort coming after school, long hours and travelling. She’s a little shy and I told her – you can use this as your strength. My advice for Reese was to be calm, composed and always have a plan B. We worked on simple elements, respecting the ingredients and cooking it to perfection. I think that’s the key for success. I think I can see her in the MasterChef Finals one day.”

© Jane Henderson Photography

Now in its 25th year, Springboard FutureChef has supported more than 225,000 young people, teaching them how to cook, developing their skills and inspiring them to go on to work in some of the UK’s very best kitchens.

Previous FutureChef winners and finalists include 2023 MasterChef champion Tom Hamblet from South Lodge, and 2023 Roux Scholarship winner April Lily Partridge from the Ledbury.

As part of the 25th anniversary celebrations, April Lily Partridge won the Outstanding Achievement Award in the inaugural FutureChef Alumni Awards. Others collecting Alumni Awards, include 2023 FutureChef national finalist Amber Rissmann, who won the Future Talent Award, and Hayley Cancea, 2013 FutureChef champion, who won the Services to Springboard Award.

Chris Gamm, chief executive of Springboard, said: “Congratulations to Reese and all 12 finalists, as well as April, Amber and Hayley who were the first three winners of FutureChef Alumni Awards. The standard this year was exceptionally high, and the future is looking bright for our industry. Over the past 25 years, FutureChef is proud to have supported more than 225,000 young people, inspiring them to get cooking and consider a career in hospitality and the culinary arts.”

The two FutureChef runner-ups were Iris Bedford, 13 years old, from Rodillian Academy, Leeds, representing the North East, and Freya Barrett, 15 years old, from Penrice Academy, Cornwall, representing the South West region.

Barrett also received the Brian Turner ‘Award for Taste’ by FutureChef Lifetime Ambassador Turner, who said: “Today’s winner created dishes that looked good and tasted good – dishes that said, ‘I’d like some more please’.”

Published: 19th March 2024

Last edited: 19th March 2024