Belfast chef Sharon McConnell was the joint winner of a global annual culinary competition with sustainability at its core. The Sustainable Chef Challenge run by her employer, Sodexo, one of Ireland’s largest catering and facilities management businesses, took place in Germany on Wed 15 November 2023.
The Sustainable Chef Challenge highlights Sodexo’s commitment to sustainable food and its goal to ensure that 70% of its main dishes can be labelled ‘low carbon’ by 2030. It is run in partnership with Rational AG, Eaternity and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Sharon faced seven other Sodexo chefs from Brazil, Chile, France, Germany, India, United Arab Emirates and the USA in a live cook-off to deliver two delicious, low-carbon, sustainable yet practical dishes that minimised food waste.
On a stage, against the clock and under the watchful eye of a panel of experts that included the German three-Michelin star chef Thomas Bühner, Sharon impressed the judges with a gluten free, vegan friendly pistachio-crusted celeriac steak, followed by a vegan chocolate mousse with a honeycomb and coconut ice cream. As well as using low carbon ingredients, Sharon also ensured her dishes minimised food waste.
Sharon was declared joint winner alongside Brazilian competitor Ricardo Machado, and they were both presented with the Culinary Experience Grand Prize.
Commenting on her win, Sharon said “I am over the moon to have won, the standard was very high, and I was a little nervous, but I’m used to preparing food under pressure and I put in a lot of practice beforehand so once the competition began, the nerves fell away. The customers I serve must respond under pressure every single day they’re at work, so I took inspiration from them when I was on that stage.
“Even back at school I felt most at home in the kitchen, so a career in catering was always on the cards. I joined Sodexo as a food service assistant 15 years ago and worked my way up. I hate wasting anything, particularly food, so I’ve always tried to keep it down. Volunteering with FareShare, which redistributes food to communities that need it, keeps me vigilant. But then you learn about the connection between food waste and climate change, and it fires you up even more.
“I was delighted to have had the opportunity to work with such talented people, united by a common purpose, paving the way for tasty and sustainable food,” Sharon continued.
Julianne Forrestal, food transformation director, Sodexo said, “As one of our most talented, award-winning chefs, congratulations to Sharon on her very well-deserved win. Sustainability is a major focus of the changes sought by our clients and for Sodexo, it’s about continually pioneering to build better experiences, support our own employees and enhance our contribution to the environment. The global Sustainable Chef Challenge reflects Sodexo’s ambition to drive change towards tasty and sustainable low-carbon food and contributes directly to our own clients’ sustainability goals.”