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3 July 2024

Making Our Mark: Nils

In the run up to WorldSkills Lyon 2024, we are telling stories of young people who are making their mark on the world around them. Latvian head chef Nils Gēvele is at the top of his profession and is using his success to promote exceptional, and sustainable, cooking while inspiring excellence from the next generation of chefs.

For Nils Gēvele, cooking is in his DNA. During his childhood, his mother worked as a confectioner and as a manager of a canteen. His father would take him hunting and fishing. He describes himself as a child who was “hooked on cooking shows.” He remembers, “Even back then, I knew it would be a profession to indulge my creativity and offer opportunities to grow and learn."

So, when it came to his education, it was a natural step for Nils to attend a vocational high school and study Restaurant Service. Nils also began putting his skills to the test by entering various competitions. In 2017, he took part in the SkillsLatvia national competition and received a bronze medal in Cooking. He went on to represent Latvia at EuroSkills Budapest 2018 and then at WorldSkills Kazan 2019 where he took home a Medallion for Excellence in Cooking.

This competition experience taught Nils how to keep a clear head under pressure – a life skill that is invaluable in his current role as head chef at FERMA, one of the most popular restaurants in Riga. He says, “It is important to pull yourself together at times like this, because, as they say, what is in your head is on the table.” Thanks to his prestigious job at one of the most-loved restaurants in Latvia’s capital, Nils has become a high-profile figure and helps draw national and international tourists to the country.

The Latvian hospitality sector, however, is facing a skills gap. The Educational Guidance and International Affairs Department at Latvia’s State Education Development Agency lists hospitality as one of Latvia’s most important industries with a labour shortage because it is struggling to attract younger workers. Nils is aware of this first hand and says he finds it a challenge to recruit skilled young people to his team.

On the right is Latvian chef Nils Gēvele, holding his WorldSkills medal, standing next to two other female competitors.

Nils is using his fame to inspire more young people to join the profession, but he is not afraid to impress on them the importance of passion and commitment. He explains, “I dedicated half of my holidays for three years to my training. If you want to be a successful chef, one of the main things you need to do is make sure you hold your knife in your hands more often than your phone. With the right focus and training, you will soon develop the skills and motivation to get better in cooking, plating, planning, and evolving as a chef.”

Nils has never stopped evolving his skill. When he was awarded Latvian Chef of the Year 2022, it was for a “zero waste” menu that used sustainable ingredients and techniques, either by cooking without creating leftovers or by cooking using leftovers. In 2023, he received the Michelin Guide Latvian Young Chef Award, with the judges recognizing how Nils “creates dishes that belie their visual simplicity by exhibiting great depth of flavour and texture”. They spotted his supportive coaching style too, noting that “as well as ensuring the smooth running of the kitchen, he provides great encouragement and inspiration to his team.”

Nils describes the award as his “biggest success in the catering industry”. He reflects, “It built my confidence and increased my ambition to raise my profile in future competitions. It made me the well-known young chef I am today." Nils’ story shows that being a success is not only about having the right technical skills, but also the life skills to support a career in a high-pressure environment like a restaurant kitchen. Thanks to his determination, Nils is now top of his profession, employing and training new talent, and boosting Latvia’s local economy.

Be inspired by more stories of outstanding young people who are making their mark.