It hasn’t been long since the latest series of The Great British Bake Off finished, but already South West College catering students have been among those making up for its absence, as two students took part in the Stormont Big Bake at Parliament Buildings. The event was held by the Economy Department to highlight the importance of training and support within the hospitality sector and comes as part of Northern Ireland's year of food and drink.

Baking was a fitting theme for one of the major venues in Northern Ireland, after the success of Andrew Smyth, originally from County Down, on the hit BBC show, Great British Bake Off. At the event the speaker of the Northern Ireland assembly, Robin Newton, said: ‘Who couldn’t be impressed by what is on display today? I watched Andrew Smith every step of the way as he went through his tests, and I have to say what we’ve seen here stands very well against what they were producing, so well done to every single one of you.’

For the two students representing South West College, Jill Elliott and Nicola McKiver, it was a valuable and enjoyable experience, even if it was one that fell to them at the last minute.

At 25, Smyth was the youngest of the shows three finalists, and celebrating Northern Ireland’s young people was a theme of Tuesday’s event. Mr Newton said: ‘It’s very important that this assembly is here to improve the lives of everyone in Northern Ireland…that’s why I want to use my time as speaker to show that the assembly has the ability to create opportunities for everyone, but particularly for our young people.’

For the two students representing South West College, Jill Elliott and Nicola McKiver, it was a valuable and enjoyable experience, even if it was one that fell to them at the last minute. Having only found out about the competition less than twenty-four hours before it was due to start, they explained: ‘We found out about it and had to go straight into the college in Dungannon to bake the cake. It’s simple enough, a Victorian sponge, but the tricky bit was coming up with the design and decoration and completing that today. We arrived here (in Stormont) at around ten o’clock and had an hour to do the design along with the other contestants, who had already been here yesterday to bake their cakes.'

The design of the cake was to encompass the theme of the competition, namely Northern Ireland’s year of food and drink, and the special guest at the event, locally successful chef Niall McKenna, from James Street South Restaurant, certainly thought the South West College students had been successful in doing this. He said: ‘For having been thrown in at the deep end yesterday it’s definitely a great job. They certainly haven’t done bad with the decoration. The smoothness and sparkle really stands out.’

After what was an undoubtedly successful event, Conor Murphy MLA, Chair of the Assembly Committee for the Economy, said: “In the NI Year of Food and Drink, the Committee was delighted to host this event to highlight the importance of supporting the local hospitality industry. The Economy Committee believes in ensuring that our young people are equipped with the right training and employability skills for working in this and other sectors. Local businesses, as well as the regional colleges and social enterprises play a vital role in providing training and skills for our young people.

“The Committee was grateful for the expertise and support of local chef Niall McKenna from James Street South Restaurant who was on hand to offer encouragement and advice to the students. The event was a great opportunity for the young people involved to showcase their skills and the training available. The range of cakes produced during the Big Bake by the students were fantastic and we thank them for particpating and showcasing their skills.”