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Budding chef dines by royal appointment

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Ricai Williams thought he might one day prepare food for royalty but it never crossed his mind they would actually share a meal.

Until two weeks ago.

The 24-year-old aspiring chef was one of 14 University College Birmingham students invited to lunch with Her Royal Highness, the Countess of Wessex on November 24.

She was at the British institution for the official opening of its new campus, McIntyre House.

“In the beginning I was nervous but I kept telling myself that she's just a person too,” Mr Williams said. “And on arrival she showed us that she was just a person like everyone else. She was very down to earth. She does a lot of volunteering in the community and she showed us that she cares a great deal about education.”

The Countess spent two days in Bermuda in 2011 with her husband, the Earl of Wessex. The Royals visited in celebration of the Duke of Edinburgh Award.

“At lunch she engaged with the whole table, asking our names, about the courses we were doing, and where we came from,” Mr Williams said. “I told her I came from Bermuda. She said she knew of it and wondered why I decided to study in the UK.

“I told her I thought it could give Bermudian chefs more diversity in regards to education. Most Bermudians go to Johnson & Wales in the US; they learn the same things. I'm learning other styles and topics and can adapt them when I come home.”

Mr Williams trained under Fourways Inn's executive chef Tommy Poh for a year, as part of a work placement required by his university.

The Paget restaurant also helped him raise $8,000 through a fundraising dinner in March, which enabled him to return to the UK for his third year of culinary arts management studies. “I learnt a lot at MEF,” he said. “I had never worked in a [professional] kitchen before and they sponsored my fundraiser, which was a big help.

“I'm enjoying this [school] year so far. I'm learning a lot; the courses are very informative. It's a perfect course for my future as a chef.”

The Countess unveiled a commemorative plaque at the new campus, named in honour of former principal Eddie McIntyre. At 36, he became the youngest principal of a UK higher education college when he joined what was called Birmingham College of Food, Tourism and Creative Studies in 1983.

“My year head for the culinary arts management course selected me to be part of the official opening, to represent the year three group,” Mr Williams said. “I was chosen out of 60 other students, I think because of my positive attitude toward work and studies. I'm also a student rep.”

It's not his first brush with fame.

“In my first year I was working for Hyatt Regency and was part of a cooking brigade for high-profile people — football players, rap artists and other entertainers and parliamentary officials include the Prime Minister.”

Eager audience: Ricai Williams, far left, was one of 14 University College Birmingham students invited for lunch with the Countess of Wessex, far right. (Photograph supplied)
Ricai Williams (centre) with former University College Birmingham principal Eddie McIntyre and vice chancellor Ray Linforth. (Photograph supplied)

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Published December 07, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated December 07, 2015 at 10:30 am)

Budding chef dines by royal appointment

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