FOR student chef Conor Burns, the world is his oyster. Conor (18), from Bryansford, is currently completing the Level 3 course in Patisserie and Confectionery at the South Eastern Regional College, having progressed from the Level 2 and Level 3 in Professional Cookery at the college. The teenage chef managed to win not one but two gold medals at IFEX, Northern Ireland’s largest hospitality industry showcase. It was staged at Belfast’s Titanic Exhibition Centre. As part of the exhibition, the ChefSkills Live Theatre competitions are held to demonstrate and reward culinary talent. Conor won gold in both Student Culinarian of the Year 2022 and IFEX Young Chef of the Year 2022. “IFEX was my first external competition,” Conor said. “I was a bit nervous when I saw the set up and the size of the venue, but my nerves settled, and once I got in the zone, I knew this was a chance to showcase my skills and experience.” He added: “I have a bit of a joke, where I tell people I have three fathers, one at Tedford’s, Head Chef Alan Foster, one at SERC, my lecturer and mentor, Thomas Turley, and my own dad, Gabriel. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support I enjoy from all of them. “During the competition I looked up and I could see all three of them watching me. “It’s great to have that kind of support behind you, so I was determined to do my best, as always, and was thrilled to get the two gold medals at IFEX 2022 and to get feedback from the judges, who included Sean Owens. “The icing on the cake is that my creation is now on the menu at Tedford’s as the awardwinning parfait.” Conor went to SERC after completing his GCSEs at St Patrick’s Grammar School. “I knew I didn’t want to do A Levels but wanted to do something different,” he said. “At the time, I was working in a bar part-time and had access to the kitchen and it was all the activity in there that interested me. “My mum told me about the courses at SERC, so I decided to find out what I could do. “I was only interested in cooking so that’s what I signed up for and I haven’t looked back since.” The young man, who combines his studies with work at Tedford’s Kitchen Bar & Restaurant in Belfast, was part of a college-organised trip to Tennessee with five other students. Funded through the Turing Scheme, the group spent a week working at Dream Hotels in Nashville, learning about Appalachian cuisine, before heading to Knoxville to work with students and staff at the University of Tennessee. They also got the chance to show off some of their homegrown repertoire during festivities organised for St Patrick’s Day. “It was an incredible experience, and I loved every minute of the visit. “Everything in the States is so much bigger, from the food to the service levels, and everyone is so friendly.” Next month Conor will be packing his bags again and his destination is Spain, for another College-organised trip. The students are travelling to San Sebastian, on the north coast of the country. It’s one of the most popular cities in the world for foodies. “I’m really looking forward to the next trip,” he said. “When the world opened up this year, it really did open up for me.” Speaking about his career choice he said: “If you are willing to put in the work, this is a great career. “I find it very satisfying and rewarding. Work doesn’t feel like work if you have a passion for it and I would encourage anyone interested to go for it. “It is important to pick up the qualifications and then you can walk into any kitchen and get work. “The work experience I am gaining at Tedford’s complements everything I am learning at college – I am continually building on my skills and it really is a case of learning something new every day.” He added that his tutors at SERC “have been amazing” and praised the “fantastic” state-ofthe-art facilities at the college. Conor intends to continue his studies and has his sights set on becoming a head chef.