Masterchef: The Professionals champion Nikita Pathakji has told how her apprenticeship at Westminster Kingsway College gave her the skills and experience for culinary success.
Nikita, 25, from Clapham, became the second former apprentice from the college to win the grand final of the BBC TV series following Alex Webb’s triumph in the competition in 2020.
She said: “This is incredible. I can’t put it into words. This surpasses every achievement of my life. I don’t know how I’m going to top this. This is it, this is the peak, I think I’ve reached it!”
Her winning menu featured a starter of seabass cured in citrus dressing with smoked aubergine and spiced red pepper purées, followed by a main of crispy chicken thighs, tortellini filled with chicken, mushrooms and coriander topped with a coconut curry sauce, and for dessert a cardamom custard tart with poached apricots and a honey tuile.
Masterchef presenter Gregg Wallace said: “Nikita opened up the larder of the world and brought us dish after stunning dish after stunning dish.”
Michelin-star chef Marcus Wareing said “She’s a chef that has grown right in front of our eyes. Her food has been sublime,” while fellow judge, chef and restauranteur Anna Haugh, added: “Nikita is on the road to creating a very unique cuisine. And that is why she’s our champion.”
Nikita, who works as a Junior Sous Chef at Michelin-star restaurant Kitchen W8 in Kensington, trained at the college’s School for Hospitality and Culinary Arts in Victoria from 2016-19.
She undertook Level 2 and Level 3 apprenticeships, sponsored by The Worshipful Company of Cooks, at The Lanesborough in Knightsbridge and Claude Bosi at Bibendum in Kensington.
Nikita said: “My apprenticeship at Westminster Kingsway was a fantastic way to gain important foundational knowledge and skills, which compounded with real experience working in restaurant kitchens, set me up with both the skills and qualifications I needed to work in top Michelin-starred restaurants.
“I’m so glad I started my career on this apprenticeship. The guidance and extra support that made the job a little less daunting when I first started out.”
Nikita grew up in Derby and lived in India with her family for two years from the age of nine. As a child she would prepare meals with her mum, which inspired her love of Asian cooking.
After her apprenticeship at WestKing, she travelled for nine months around South East Asia, which further deepened her passion and appreciation for the region’s flavours and culinary styles.
Sharon Barry, Head of School for Hospitality and Culinary Arts Apprenticeships, said: “Nikita was a dedicated, passionate and highly motivated learner during her time at WestKing. It comes as no surprise that she has continued to grow and thrive within her culinary career.
“Winning Masterchef: The Professionals is a fantastic achievement, and we are all incredibly proud of her. She is a huge inspiration to all our current learners who has shown anything is possible if you believe in yourself and follow your dreams.”
More than 100 Hospitality and Culinary Arts students savoured their success as they graduated from Westminster Kingsway College.
Two ceremonies were held at St Stephen’s Church near the college’s Victoria Centre in Vincent Square to honour those completing their courses and training this year.
Level 3 diploma students and apprentices received their scrolls at a ceremony led by Paul Jervis, Head of School for Hospitality and Culinary Arts, on 30 September.
Awards were also presented to the best and most improved students of the year before all the graduates marched outside the college to huge cheers and the school’s graduation tradition of banging pots and pans.
Alistair Biggins, 19, who won the Professional Chef Diploma Student of the Year, said: “I’ve enjoyed every minute of my time at WestKing. It’s been so much fun and I hope to come back one day. I owe it all to my class. We were a very tight unit and worked so well with each other. Three of us in the group got awards, which was nice to see. It’s great to be part of the school’s history.”
“My lecturers were really good. By the end of your course, they’re more like a friend. They were always looking out for our best interests and give us advice. They teach you things you won’t learn anywhere else because they have so much experience.”
Freya Smith, 19, who won Pastry Chef Diploma Student of the Year, and is now working at Miel Bakery in Camden, described her teachers as “amazing and inspiring.”
She said: “I‘ve really enjoyed my years at WestKing. I’ve always loved cooking and coming up with new flavours using different ingredients. Here, you start by learning all the basics, which allows you to be more creative in understanding the possibilities of what you can do. I’ve come a long way from where I started.”
Shanai Haynes, 19, who won Best Restaurant Service Diploma Student of the Year and is now working at Core in Notting Hill, said: “We had such a bond with our teachers. If we were stuck or struggling with an assignment, they were really helpful and supportive. They really prepared us well and gave us lots of experience for where we’re going. If it wasn’t for them, I might not have made it through the course.”
A Special Achievement Award was presented to the student who achieved above and beyond expectations during their studies, which was won by Jeremiah Youseman, 19, who studied for a Professional Chef diploma.
The ceremony also saw Stephen Carter, Michael Dutnall, David Smith, George Blogg, Julie Crocker and Guy Hilton receive Honorary Fellowships of Westminster Kingsway College.
Higher education students received their scrolls from Petrena O’Halloran, Head of Higher Education, as they were announced by Higher Education Lecturer David Bell, at a ceremony on 4 October.
David then presented awards to those students who had excelled in their studies this year.
Ricardo Ferreira, 43, graduated with a BA (Hons) Business and Enterprise Management and won the Institute of Hospitality Award, and is now a Chef Lecturer at WestKing.
He said: “It has been a long, challenging journey to reach this stage. There have been ups and downs, but the challenges have all been worth it. Being on the other side as a lecturer has further aided my self-development. I am thoroughly enjoying my role in helping learners achieve their potential.”
Giving the valedictorian speech, Business and Enterprise Management graduate Michelle Mori, 26, said: “Today is a day to be thankful and be inspired. It’s a day that demonstrates how much we can achieve if we don’t give up. We have received great education thanks to all our teachers who gave us the support, resources and the wake-up calls we needed to accomplish this major milestone.”
Guest speaker Professor David Foskett MBE, Chair of the International Hospitality Council and member of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts and Craft Guild of Chefs, congratulated the graduates on their achievements.
Prof Foskett said: “Westminster Kingsway College is indeed a very special place and your qualification you have achieved here will change your life for the better and help you to develop your career.
“Higher education at Westminster is just as relevant today as it was in my day 50 years ago. A good, sound curriculum providing practical and cognitive skills and knowledge, giving its graduates dignity and status in the 21st century to compete for top positions in the hospitality industry.”
Commending all the graduates, Assistant Principal Terry Tinton said: “I would like to offer my warmest congratulations to all our students and apprentices on their graduation. They, and their teachers, have shown huge commitment and resilience during the most challenging period in education and for the hospitality sector. They will always be part of the WestKing family.”