Formby’s Invictus Games gold medallist tennis player, Alex Krol, made it ‘game’, set and match when he won a cookery competition for veterans, run by a great supporter of Help for Heroes.
He took part in the competition, designed by Swinton Park Hotel near Ripon in North Yorkshire, to give wounded, injured and sick service personnel and veterans a flavour of life in a professional kitchen.
Alex signed up for the experience so that he could help his wife Jayne more in the kitchen following the birth, a few weeks ago, of their first child, son Xander.
“Since he was born, it has become apparent that I am going to have to do more around the house and that meals such as beans on toast are no longer going to be acceptable!” he explained.
Alex was paralysed from the chest down after a motorbike accident in 2005 caused severe spinal injuries and ended his military career with the Royal Marines.
For two years after the accident, Alex struggled with the idea of being a wheelchair user but, after realising that he was still fit, he took every opportunity to try new activities.
As a result, he has represented his country at the highest level as a member of the Armed Forces Para Snowsports Team; has gained his private pilot’s licence and is actively involved with disabled flying charity called Aerobility which, through adaptive equipment, enables wounded, injured or sick service personnel and veterans to have a go at flying; and, earlier this year, he won a gold medal playing tennis doubles at the Invictus Games in Orlando.
“I still have that ‘can do’ mentality that is instilled in every recruit throughout Commando training,” said Alex. “And that really helped me in my approach to the cookery competition too.”
He and the other competitors each spent a training day with a different Michelin star chef, learning how to cook their restaurant’s signature game dish. They then came together for a ‘cook off’, resembling a mini Masterchef, when they had to reproduce that dish, on their own and in just two hours, ready for judging.
After just four hours under the tutorship of Richard Allen, the Executive Chef at Rockcliffe Hall near Darlington, Alex was able to create a dish that not only looked great but tasted good too. His combination of pigeon, with its numerous textures of chick pea dahl, broccoli puree, mini bread-crumbed haggis, marinated stem broccoli and fig jam, really impressed the two judges - Richard Townsend of Gourmet Game and Steve Bulmer of Swinton Park Cookery School.
Alex said a lot of the techniques he uses playing tennis came in surprisingly useful for cooking too.
“It sounds daft but it’s all about visualization and regarding each stage as a chapter of a book – that’s how I approach tennis too.
There were a lot of elements going on in my dish so I had to concentrate really hard but I knew, if I could pull it off on the day, it would be alright.
And thanks to the training I was given I now have the confidence and the skills to push myself to do more in the kitchen and try new things.”
First prize was a week’s training at Swinton Park Cookery School, plus all competitors received a set of Meyer pans.
Melanie Dickinson, the interim Centre Manager at Phoenix House, said the aim of Help for Heroes was to inspire, enable and support individuals to lead active, independent and fulfilling lives through many forms of support.
“Vocational visits also play a vital role in this but Swinton Park has generously taken this to another level completely. Its competition gives the participants an experience they never forget,” she said.
Whether or not they use it as a fantastic step up into a potential new career, they will all have a renewed confidence about trying new things which they can apply to many other aspects of life on ‘civvy street’.”
(Source: Debbie Calgie, Help for Heroes Press Officer (North) Tel: 01748 8354148 Email: Debbie.email@example.com)