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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

Search for the world's best waiter continues at WorldSkills Abu Dhabi

Contestants compete over four days to find the champion in restuarant services at the world's biggest vocational skills contest

Elizabeth Forkuoh serves a table while taking part in the restaurant service competition at WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017. Christopher Pike / The National
Elizabeth Forkuoh serves a table while taking part in the restaurant service competition at WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017. Christopher Pike / The National

Elizabeth Forkuoh has already folded 12 napkins into different shapes in 15 minutes, performed a blind identification test on a dozen fortified wines, and carved two plates of smoked salmon.

Yet here she is, standing at our table, as welcome and effervescent at the sparking glass of water she is just pouring into our glasses.

The 21-year-old has already checked if we want ice, of course, and somehow simultaneously produced to the two menus for tonight’s dinner. What makes her performance more remarkable is that she is doing under the watchful eyes of a pair of stern-looking judges.

This is no ordinary meal, but the finals of the Restaurant Services competition at WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017, an Olympic games for 48 work skills that range from aircraft maintenance to flower arranging.

Ms Forkuoh was selected to represent the UK after winning the national championship. Over three days her table skills will be tested again around 40 other international competitors from as far as Singapore, Zambia and Kazakhstan.

And when it is all over on Thursday night, one of them will have won the gold medal for Restaurant Services and can justifiably claim to be the world champion waiter.

To see how good they really are, the contestants must first be judged under as real conditions as possible. Which is why The National and nine other members of the media are being served in what is called the casual dining section of the contest.

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The venue is the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, a corner of which has been converted to a mini restaurant. The food will be provided by the cookery contestants, but tonight it is Ms Forkuoh who is being judged.

As I make polite conversation with my dining companion, a randomly selected but charming reporter from the Dutch De Telegraaf newspaper, our waitress ensures everything is in order.

It is a masterclass in warmth and discretion. Ms Forkuoh has none of the failings frequently observed in many restaurants. She does not hover at your shoulder constantly trying to top up your glass, nor does she snatch away your plate just as the final mouthful is consumed.

Instead she seems to be there just when you need her, smiling and engaged with being obtrusive. There is clearly an art to these things, and here is an expert.

With just two courses to be served, there is a little time at the end to ask the UK champion about herself. She comes from Wales, but is now working at the world-famous Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland.

“So of course I get plenty of practise in carving smoked salmon,” she laughs. Then checks our glasses: “Would you like some more sparking water?”