Sean Owens, or as we often refer to him, Mr. IFEX, is the Salon Culinaire Director at IFEX. Sean has been at the helm of helping to organise IFEX for many years and is instrumental in devising and executing a suite of skills competitions that help raise the standards in our industry.

In his position as the World Skills UK Expert for Culinary Arts Skill 34, Sean is training and developing top young UK chef competitors to the International Standard of Excellence on their way to the World Skills Finals in Shanghai, China - October 2022.

Sean is also CEO and Global Skills Director of our new videography company ChefSkills Online – creating cutting edge video resources for the upskilling of culinarians in culinary schools, seats of learning as well as major hotel chains around the world.

  1. How and when did you first get involved in IFEX?

IFEX is in my blood – I’ve been involved with the Salon Culinaire at the event for more years that I can remember! The confidence that the Salon gives to the next generation of culinarians in Northern Ireland is incredible. It’s been my pleasure and honour to play a role in the world-class competition that is the Salon Culinaire and to see so many superb chefs first being awarded in their careers.

  1. What is the best thing about your current job?

Seeing the skills growth of my competitors gives me the focus to push on and develop the journey for my learners. I thrive on the adrenaline needed to maximise the opportunities for young people entering our industry. Pressure Testing is a major part of my current job role and pushing myself and my competitors towards the World Skills Final keeps me current and skills specific in the ever-changing world of modern Culinary Arts.

  1. What was your first job in the hospitality/foodservice industry?

I have been working in the Hospitality and Catering industry for many years, as far back as I can remember from working in Brittany France as a KP on my summer holidays, training in Switzerland, Sweden, USA and Park Lane, London – my first real job was working as a commis chef in the Northern Counties Hotel, Portrush under the great Jack Fawcett.

  1. Who has been your biggest influence during your career?

I better mention my wife Helen who is also a chef and has been at my side since we met as trainee chefs at Northern Ireland Hotel and Catering College. My Executive Chef in London’s renowned and exclusive  45 Park Lane / Playboy Club – David Evans inspired me, to inspire others and his training style and programmes have stayed with me since, I commis’d for him in the Craft Guild of Chefs – UK Chef of The Year Final in London at Hotelympia and it still ranks as one of the most important days of my life, Chef Evans trained me to the final of UK Young Chef of the Year the same year – Bronze Medal.

I have been involved in culinary competitions ever since as a Competitor, Judge, Salon Director, Skills Coach, Training Manager and WSUK Culinary Expert.

  1. What key piece of advice would you give the future generation of hospitality professionals?

Everybody at this stage will always talk of the hard work needed and commitment to what some call a vocation. I say map out what you want to do in your life and fit your job around it, learn from the very best, travel, travel and when you’re done, travel again. Expand your “repertoire” and engage with as many people from differing food cultures as you can” and above all else “hold on tight and enjoy the ride, it’s an amazing career, if you let it be” – Keep moving forward!

  1. What is your favourite restaurant or type of food?

I enjoy eating fish and cooking fish – there are many types of cuisine that have influenced my palate over many years and favourite food memories would include eating with the Sherpas in the Himalayas, Helen and I being blown away by the amazing meal at the two star Michelin “Ciel Bleu” in Amsterdam and being served by the Netherlands World Skills Restaurant Service National Champion – Fabienne

My last visit to China and the food and hospitality laid on by my good friend Celebrity Chef Liu Bo Ping – must go down as one of the greatest culinary experiences of my life, Sichuan Cuisine from Ten of the top chefs in China under the tutelage of Chef Liu – Chairman of the Chinese Chefs Association, we will once again meet in Shanghai, I can’t wait!

  1. What is your favourite dish?

From my time in Zurich - Switzerland as a young Koch Praktikant / Trainee Chef - I fell in love with the national potato dish Rosti and still treat myself to this dish, when I need a boost.

The Schweizer Sennen-Rösti mit Schinken, Käse und Zwei Spiegeleier, translated to Swiss Potato Cake with Cured Ham, Appenzeller cheese, Two Soft Fried Eggs – aaah Heaven

  1. What is your favourite drink?

Contrary to belief I’m actually not a big drinker per say, I enjoy a creamy and cold pint of the black stuff and maybe a Pastis de Marseille the odd time or a glass of wine or 5 when I’m eating.

  1. What or who are you looking forward most to see or meet at IFEX 22?

I’m looking forward to our new skills feature – The World Skills Hospitality Hub – Colleges & industry and student competitors joining us in what will be a great addition to the skills conversation. I can’t wait to work on site with Toby, Billie and all the team at 365 events (Lets do this) and of course my amazing judging team in particular my trusted stead Doley Heaney on the skills co-ordination of this massive event. To have Iwona Niemczewska the Polish Skills Expert for Culinary Arts and Alan McCabe Ireland Skills Culinary Arts Expert with us is a great honour and I look forward to giving everyone a Belfast “ Cead Mile Failte” Welcome to Belfast and Welcome to our 25th Anniversary year – IFEX 2022