Meet Our Award Nominated Apprentice Chef Aga Bernaciak

17 September 2021

Aga is the chef at a busy police headquarters. As well as preparing and cooking all food, she serves customers, plans menus, designs hospitality packages, ensures compliance with allergens and other HSE legislation, orders and manages stock and delivers to budget. During the pandemic, Aga continued to provide a service for key workers, ensuring a Covid-safe environment at all times.  

Aga embarked on her formal culinary training through the Chef De Partie apprenticeship in late 2020 to further develop and enhance her skills. In May 2021, she was crowned Compass Apprentice Chef of the Year – just six months into her formal culinary training. Despite the lack of high-end dining experience in her day job, Aga’s victory in Compass Apprentice Chef of the Year proved she can design and deliver a fine-dining menu to exceptionally high standards.

Following her win, Aga was part of a team that prepared her winning menu for 46 guests at the annual Apprentice Chef of The Year VIP Dinner. She was also selected to take part in the high-profile closing event for Welbeck College and a Master Chefs of Great Britain event at St. Andrews.

We caught up with Aga ahead of the Food Service Cateys final in October to find out a bit more about her role and training, what motivates her and her ambitions for the future.

Who or what inspired you to become a chef?

Food was always very important in my life. I helped my mum in the kitchen, at first just watching, but later cooking for the whole family. I was in heaven and became very interested in cooking. I taught myself through reading books and watching tutorials. I thought it was entirely out of my league, but it looked like so much fun - so I practised and created.  

I take inspiration from everywhere, from my childhood, my home country Poland, even simple walks with my kids in the countryside can add something new to my dishes. I know that every kitchen I worked in, every hour I stood and every onion that made me cry, as well as the adventures and magic moments outside the kitchen, have sparked my imagination and opened up new ideas.

I am a quiet person, so sometimes it’s hard to express myself but by creating new dishes, mixing different ingredients and placing them together I say something about myself. I truly believe that when a dish is made with love, it can say more than words. Cooking is like art for me, a place where I can express myself.

What excites you in your role?

I love being in the kitchen, there is nothing more important than making my customers happy after tasting my dishes. I’m most excited when I see the smiles appear on people’s faces, the first sign that they’re finding the meal enjoyable and tasty. That motivates me to do more, improve myself and work harder to be a more creative chef.

I also really enjoy being with people who can inspire me and train me because there is always something new to learn.

What are you enjoying most about your apprenticeship?

Everything has changed since I started my apprenticeship. There is so much I have enjoyed, from new cooking and presentation skills to going outside of my comfort zone, which is scary but I love the challenge! I have become a better and more confident chef.

What opportunities has the apprenticeship given you?

All training courses improve me as a person and as a chef, making me more confident in what I do and the way I think. I’ve met a lot of incredible chefs and thanks to them I know that the path to success takes a lot of hard work. Because I enrolled on an apprenticeship, I was able to take part in the Compass Chef of the Year competition. I really didn’t expect to win but I’m so happy with what I achieved. I believe that when I get my qualifications, new career paths and opportunities will be open to me.  

What makes you proud?

The people I have around me make me proud as they are always with me and supporting me. I’m also proud of myself and that I was brave enough to take the first steps out of my comfort zone with the apprenticeship and the competition.  

What are your ambitions for the future?

I have so many ambitions for my future, but the most important things for me are improving my knowledge and culinary skills to the highest level possible. When I get my qualifications, I would like to focus on creating elegant, visually appealing dishes that taste great and satisfy my customers.