SHE may have expected Sir Alan Sugar or Gordon Ramsey but a Feltham teenager got a royal reception when she was crowned the nation's best apprentice chef.
Baking enthusiast Sam Rowles beat off competition from 60 of the UK's best young cooks to win the award at the catering world's Oscars and was delighted to receive the gong from Sophie, Countess of Wessex.
The 18-year-old, who works at Heathrow's Sheraton Skyline restaurant and lives with her family in Ruscombe Way, Feltham, was one of three finalists in the apprentice category at the Craft Guild of Chefs awards but had ruled out winning as she was up against a chef from Raymond Blanc's two Michelin-starred La Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons.
Sam said: “When I was sitting at my table I was saying: 'Oh my God this is the closest I'll ever get to royalty' because I was sure I wasn't going to win. So I was shocked when I won and actually got to meet her.”
The former pupil of St Mark's school in Bath Road, Hounslow rates risotto as her best dish and, although she enjoyed cooking as a youngster, she did not really think about becoming a chef until she got to the finals of the national Springboard cooking competition two years ago.
“I have been cooking with my dad and my nan since I was little. I used to love baking,” she said.
“But to be honest I wanted to be a childminder or an infant school teacher when I was younger and then I entered the Springboard competition, got to the final and realised I had found something I was good at. It all came from there.
“My family, my colleagues, the chef, the sous chef have all said 'well done'. They are all dead chuffed.”
So, does the budding chef see herself as the female Gordon Ramsay of the future, with a collection of restaurants all over the world?
“Looking very, very, very far into the future I want to open my own restaurant but for now I just want to be the best I can,” she said. “My goal is just to get better for the moment and in the long run maybe open my own restaurant.”