Former England rugby union star Matt Dawson MBE provided the icing on the cake for South Tyneside College students attending a prestigious national catering event.
The 2003 World Cup winner and current Question of Sport TV show team captain spent time quizzing them about their planned future cookery careers.
NVQ Professional Cookery students Christopher Murray, 19, Shannon Little, Caleb Kostromin, and Dylan Thompson, all 18, attended.
The meeting was at the famous Ascot racecourse in Berkshire, where catering company Sodexo was holding its annual Salon Culinaire chef skills showcase.
Matt is an ambassador for Sodexo, which runs catering services at South Tyneside College and hundreds of other centres, including Ascot.
The students, who undertook the 600-mile round trip in little over 24-hours, gained first-class insight into the professional catering industry.
Eamonn Murphy, Sodexo Account Manager at South Tyneside College, said: “Meeting Matt was a great experience for the students.
“He reached the pinnacle of his profession and is an example of what can be achieved through hard work and dedication.
“Matt was very friendly and upbeat, exactly as he comes across on television, and he took a keen interest in our students.
“It was great for them to meet him and to be able to attend such a prestigious event with wonderful chefs and industry professionals in attendance.
“Importantly, the event allowed our learners to see many fabulous chefs from various disciplines at work.
“Hopefully this wonderful experience will inspire them further in their studies.”
Level 3 student Christopher said: “It’s been great to get the chance to see how other chefs operate, and their different styles and designs of cooking.”
And Level 2 learner Dylan added: “I have only been at the college a few weeks so to have the chance to do all this has been overwhelming.”
Lecturer David Taylor said: “It’s too easy in the North East to be insular. This has been an ideal opportunity to open their eyes to what else is available.”
Salon Culinaire features live cooking challenges, master classes, the latest street food tastes, and competitions for cake baking and plated dishes.
Around 700 Sodexo employees from across the UK and Ireland competed in live and static cooking classes.
They included Paula Lumsden, a Sodexo barista at Costa LRC at South Tyneside College.
She attended the event for the fourth successive year and reached the final ten of 300 competitors in the event’s barista competition.
Helping guide and judge competitors were celebrity chefs James Tanner and Adam Handling.
The South Tyneside team attended a chefs’ dinner in the Ascot restaurant and next day watched the competitions take shape.
Jonathan Keitch, Sodexo Universities account director, said: “Food is very important to our business, and inspiring the next generation of chefs is critical so we gladly welcomed these students to visit Salon Culinaire.
“This is a showcase of what a career in catering can offer, from live competitions in front of recognised judges from the industry to masterclasses from celebrity chefs like James Tanner and Adam Handling.”
South Tyneside College, the TES FE Awards 2017 top college and best provider of Further Education, runs a range of catering courses. Disciplines covered include kitchen and front of house, professional cookery, food and beverage service, and professional cookery.
Further information is available by visiting www.stc.ac.uk or by calling 0191 427 3500.