Claire Toynton, winner of the Rising Star Award at the Baking Industry Awards, talks to Alice Cooke about what the accolade means to her
Looking back at the moment she won the Rising Star Award at the Baking Industry Awards (BIAs), Claire Toynton says the whole thing was a bit of a blur. “I can’t even remember what I said and to whom for about an hour afterwards,” she laughs.
Toynton had just gained a First in her Baking Technology Management degree at London’s Southbank University when she walked off with the accolade, and is now working as a bakery technologist at Délifrance UK.
But even if she can’t remember what she said, British Baker can, because we were the first people she spoke to when she came off the stage. She said: “Oh my goodness, this is incredible. I never expected it. I was walking up to the stage and thought, ‘This is a mistake?’
“I couldn’t believe I was here. To win is such an amazing confidence boost. To have somebody say, ‘You’re doing the right thing and you’re on the right track,’ is fantastic.”
A few months later the dust has settled on the excitement and Toynton is now fully immersed in her new role at Délifrance. But the shock hasn’t quite worn off: “I still don’t really believe it!”
She says it still gets brought up in conversation, and that the win definitely hasn’t lost its shine.
She’s come a long way from leaving school and finding herself in a job that was taking her “nowhere”. It was only when she discovered Southbank University’s baking degree that she decided to make a change.
“I will never stop being grateful that I made that decision – it gave me the chance to think about what I really wanted to do, and I couldn’t be happier.”
She now gives talks at her old university about the award: “I feel like a minor celebrity; it’s great! I used to go in anyway to try and strengthen the link between Délifrance and the university, as I’m now in a good position to do that. Since the win, I’ve been asked to speak to the students a couple of times, which I’ve really enjoyed. I hope that I am inspiring them to want to get into the industry, because hopefully they can see what a great industry it is.”
On a personal level, Toynton says the award has made “a world of difference” to her self-belief and given her “a real boost”, but it has also made a huge difference to her career.
“Everyone here at Délifrance is so happy for me – they’ve been great and really seem to have enjoyed sharing in my success,” she adds.
Toynton entered the awards because somebody from university encouraged her to do so: “I wouldn’t have been confident enough to go for it myself, if I hadn’t been pushed forward. But when it was suggested to me, I did think, ‘Maybe I actually could do this, maybe I could win’, and with that scrap of self-belief I thought it might be worth doing.”
She continues: “Also, I thought it might give me a platform of some sort, a chance to talk about my thoughts and ideas, because I am really passionate about the industry. I thought if I put myself forward, more people might listen. It turns out I was right about that.”
Before the big night, Toynton had to travel to London to talk to a panel of judges – industry veterans Piero Scacco and David Powell, and former British Baker editor Sylvia Macdonald – which Toynton says was “incredibly intimidating. It was like being on The Apprentice!”
“They asked me about my path into the baking industry and how I got where I am now. Then they asked me about my ideas and my opinions. If I had to pinpoint anything, that was what snagged it for me. I was quite forthcoming about my ideas, especially when it comes to work placements for students, which is something I’m extremely passionate about, and I think Piero and David are too. I was, and continue to be, really opinionated about that and how important it is, and I think they liked that.”
So would she encourage others to follow in her footsteps? “Absolutely, do it, do it right now. That’s what I’ve said to the students in the bakery school at uni – it was such an amazing experience. I didn’t expect to win it, I just wanted to be in it, to take part and to have the whole experience. In the end the win just topped the whole thing off, it was completely amazing.
“So if you want to go for it, or even if you’re not very sure, just go for it. Go for everything, put yourself out there because you have to try everything – or you won’t get anywhere.”
Of the night itself Toynton simply says: “It was amazing – I know it sounds naff to say, but I was genuinely just so happy to be there.”
At the awards she caught up with people she’d crossed paths with on work placements and through visits but also got the chance to meet people that she had heard of and looked up to in the industry. “Everyone was so friendly and approachable.”
And woe betide anyone who goes to Toynton’s house and doesn’t notice the award. “It’s sitting in the kitchen, which is also the sitting room, so it’s the focal point of the house. If they don’t bring it up in the first couple of minutes I start polishing it or dropping hints so that they’ll ask. Everyone has to hear the story of the award.”
Sponsor Piero Scacco says the aim of The Rising Star Award is to recognise an individual that will play a role in shaping the future of the baking industry – and he’s confident the Baking Industry Awards found that in Claire Toynton.
“What really stood out for me when I met her was Claire’s passion for baking,” he tells British Baker.
“It’s unusual to see in someone at such a young age and will stand her in good stead for the future.”
Scacco – who was a member of the Baking Industry Awards judging panel that interviewed Toynton – was also impressed with how she presented her ideas and opinions on the baking industry.