Care home chef whose found the right menu for pleasing residents is in running for major award

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A Cardiff care home chef who prides herself on catering for the individual tastes of residents has been shortlisted for a prestigious award.

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 has landed 48-year-old Vicky a place in the final of major national competition, the 2019 Wales Care Awards.

This is the 16th anniversary of the awards and the glittering presentation ceremony will be held at City Hall in Cardiff on Friday October 18, hosted by tenor and radio presenter Wynne Evans, better known as Gio Compario from the Go Compare TV ads.

The awards are in association with Care Forum Wales, a not-for-profit organisation which is celebrating its own 26th anniversary this year after being set up in 1993 to give independent care providers a single professional voice with which to speak on one of the most important issues of our time – how to provide better quality care for those who need it most.

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

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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 says 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.

“Being shortlisted for the award is lovely and I’m looking forward very much to the presentation evening in Cardiff City Hall which I’ll be going to with my husband.

“However, this isn’t just about me because I see it as a group effort by the whole kitchen team at Woodcroft.”

Mario Kreft MBE, the Chair of Care Forum Wales, said the Wales Care Awards had gone from strength to strength.

He said: “The event is now firmly established as one of the highlights in the Welsh social care calendar.

“The aim is to recognise the unstinting and often remarkable dedication of our unsung heroes and heroines across Wales.

“The care sector is full of wonderful people because it’s not just a job it’s a vocation – these are the people who really do have the X Factor.

“If you don’t recognise the people who do the caring you will never provide the standards that people need and never recognise the value of the people who need the care in society.

“We need to do all we can to raise the profile of the care sector workforce – they deserve to be lauded and applauded.

“It is a pleasure to honour the contribution of all the finalists. Each and every one of them should be very proud of their achievement.”