Cardiff care home chef scores silver in major awards

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A Cardiff care home chef who prides herself on catering for the individual tastes of residents has struck silver in major national awards.

In the seven years Vicky Popple has been in charge of the kitchen at Hafod’s  Woodcroft home in Towbridge she has cooked up a formidable reputation for knowing precisely the tastes and dietary requirements of the 90-odd people she prepares around 250 meals a day for along with her dedicated team of five helpers.

And her Sunday roasts and lemon and walnut drizzle cakes have become famous amongst residents, their families and her fellow staff members.

It is this dedication to her caring role that saw 48-year-old Vicky take silver in the 2019 Wales Care Awards, organised by Care Forum Wales.

The glittering presentation ceremony was held at City Hall in Cardiff hosted by tenor and radio presenter Wynne Evans, better known as Gio Compario from the Go Compare TV ads.

Vicky, who lives with David, her husband of almost 30 years, in Church Village, Pontypridd, scored silver in the Excellence in Catering Award sponsored by HC-One Ltd.

Vicky, who is a mother of two and grandmother of two, was born and raised in Canton, Cardiff and left the local Cantonian High School at 16 without any formal qualifications.

She worked first in the care sector but at just 19 married her school days sweetheart David who had joined the army and been posted to Germany.

As a young army wife, she took a job in the kitchen of the school attended by her two children where she stayed until her husband left the army and the family moved home to Wales in 1998.

After a period of training Vicky became a mobile school cook with Cardiff Council for the next five years before she branched out into private enterprise buying a burger van with which she did a roaring trade outside a big department store in Llantrisant.

After taking a couple of years out to look after her father until he passed away, she worked briefly in the canteen of the S4C TV station in Cardiff, meeting big name diners such as Alex Jones from the One Show and Welsh legend Max Boyce.

Vicky joined Hafod in 2010 and was first a casual worker at Woodcroft. Later she moved into the kitchen and after gaining all the necessary qualifications became chef just over seven years ago.

She said: “I love it here and I pride myself on the way my team and I go out of our way to cater for the individual requirement of everyone we prepare food for, which is 60 people in the main building and around 30 others in the adjacent flats. That’s four meals every day which makes a total of about 250.

“I know them all individually and what they can or can’t have – halal or gluten free and so on – or just what they like eating.

“If a person is not able to eat a certain food then I’ll adapt the menu to ensure that they can.”

In her nomination for the Wales Care Awards, Woodcroft manager Elaine Mather said of her: “Vicky meets with all new clients to find out what there food preferences are and any special dietary requirements.

“Vicky communicates well with everyone, asks them how they used to cook their meals at home and often takes tips from the ladies on how to improve a dish or what their favourite was, which results in us having very little food waste.

“When we celebrated St David’s Day Vicky tailored the menu and we had home- made bara brith, Welsh cakes, leek and potatoes soup and Welsh lamb cobbler.

“Her Lemon drizzle and walnut cake is to die for.”

Vicky explained: “The recipe for the cake is a closely guarded secret which I’d never divulge but everyone does seem to love it. They also like my Sunday roasts and Christmas dinners which clients’ relatives come in to have with us. In fact, I’ve already got 10 people booked in for this year.”

Mario Kreft, chairman of Care Forum Wales, said the standard of entries was extremely high.

He added: “There are only winners here tonight so it is only fitting that the finalists will receive a gold, silver or bronze Wales Care Award.

“I trust that they will continue to inspire those around them as role models and encourage others to aspire to even greater heights and in the months and years to come.

“This awards ceremony is our opportunity to pay tribute and to celebrate the talent and commitment that is improving the quality of life for thousands and thousands of people throughout Wales.

”We take our hats off to them.”