Opy Odutayo, 25, from Harrow, was named a Successful Former Students winner in the annual Professional Association for Catering Education (PACE) awards.
She studied for a Grand Escoffier Diploma at WestKing and was named Best Overall International student before completing an MSc Food Business Management at the University of West London.
Opy is now a chef at Mortimer House members club in Fitzrovia and is also the co-founder of Ice Cream & Ting, which makes and sells ice creams with Afro-Caribbean flavours.
She said: “This award is especially important to me as a black African woman. When I started, I was always comparing myself and saying I’m not good enough. I hope winning this award will inspire and raise the profile of other black female chefs.
“I don’t see many black female chefs being recognised and getting these kinds of awards, so it feels so good to receive it and know that all my hard work, learning and pushing myself in the kitchen is starting to pay off.”
Miranda Quantrill, Curriculum Manager at WestKing, who taught Opy when she studied at the college from 2018-19, nominated her for the PACE award.
She said: ‘’Opy is a fantastic role model. She has always worked extremely hard in everything she has done. She is an inspiration to those wishing to pursue a career in hospitality alongside education. I am proud to have been her tutor and it’s wonderful to see her continue to flourish as an entrepreneur and one of our acclaimed alumni.”
Opy grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, and knew at the age of six she wanted to be a chef. After studying for a business economics degree in Ghana she moved to the UK in 2016.
While at WestKing, Opy helped Miranda at Billingsgate Seafood School at weekends and undertook a two-month work placement at three Michelin-star Galvin restaurants in London.
“Coming from Nigeria, I didn’t know anything about British food or French cuisine. I was just a blank slate coming with my hands open to learn,” said Opy.
“Miranda was a great teacher. If I was struggling, she would always tell me not to be scared and tell me I could do it. She took everyone along with her and made sure nobody was left behind.
“I truly enjoyed my time at WestKing. It gave me the foundation to grow and get to where I am today. Even now, when I need to know how to do something, it all leads back to my course. I still have my notes and use them today.”
“When people ask me about colleges I recommend, I always say WestKing – it’s the best place.”
Opy began her career working with fellow WestKing alum Ben Murphy at the Launceston Place in Kensington, AllBright members club in Mayfair and Nutshell in Westminster.
She featured in the 2020 Made You Look exhibition and hosted her own menu at the Carousel in Marylebone, which led to working with Future Plate, a company offering curated Afro-Caribbean fine dining events.
“This award has been an added motivation for me,” said Opy, who nearly quit being a chef after working excessively long hours at the start of her career.
“I often ask myself what is true meaning of success? I honestly don’t feel I’m there yet, but I’m my own worst critic. But when I look back, particularly in terms of confidence, I’m a completely different person now to when I started. I feel very proud of what I have achieved.”