Chefs reach their profession in many different ways, from people who have been passionate cooks from a young age, to those who have pushed to improve their lives by gaining skills in hospitality. We should celebrate the diversity of ways people get into their careers and support everyone who has an idea. We don’t know what difference people can make within themselves and to others until we give them a chance.
Chefs + their journeys
This week I went to Bournemouth – where I went to college – to judge the exams for the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts Specialised Chefs Scholarship. I was actually a guinea pig for that scholarship when it started 29 years ago! I saw 22 young chefs complete a six hour exam each. Everyone was really focused, cooked food that tasted brilliant and presented it beautifully. They all passed with flying colours. It was fantastic to congratulate them after their exams as someone who had been standing in their shoes in 1989.
As well as feeling inspired seeing young chefs at the start of their careers, it was also a wonderful experience for my own family. I took my 13 year old son Joseph and my girlfriend’s daughter Hannah with me. Joseph wants to be a chef and wants to apply for that particular course – which he’ll be able to do in two years. Hannah loves baking and was really interested in the pastry section. Both of them were really inspired and motivated by the day. You don’t usually take your children to such things, but it was a school inset day and the college okayed it. I really think that taking opportunities to expose your children to new things can make a huge difference to them, opening their eyes to the possibilities in life.
I also went to The Cateys awards this week – they’re a bit like the Oscars for the hospitality world – because our Chef Trainer Leon Seraphin was shortlisted for the Education and Training Award. Leon has been with us at Beyond Food and Brigade for five years. He was really vulnerable when he first arrived with us, but he did the apprenticeship and has pushed his life forward so much he’s now working with us to inspire vulnerable people. He’s an amazing guy who can really engage with the beneficiaries of our charity in a way that others can’t. He works in the kitchen shoulder-to-shoulder with them, increasing their skills and pushing them along their journeys. He was a really worthwhile nominee for The Cateys award.
I also thought a bit about my own journey as a chef this week when I attended a plenary meeting at the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts. It was held at The Pig Hotel in Brockenhurst, a really cool hotel group run by Robin Hudson, who used to be my General Manager when I worked at Chewton Glen. It was an inspiring location, particularly as they have an incredible garden where they grow the majority of fruit and vegetables used in the restaurant. The chef James Golding will be doing a supper club at Brigade in October, so that’s especially exciting. I’ll be sharing more about that in my next blog.
At the plenary meeting, I was asked to do the ‘Life and Times’ spot on the agenda, to talk about my life and what I’ve done with my career so far. I’m a slightly different beast to most chefs in the Academy – so I ended up ranting and raving about homelessness and my desire to prevent homelessness in the future!
These combined experiences of the last week or so demonstrate how chefs decide on their profession in multiple ways. We all take our craft in different directions too. But I’m proud I’m in an industry where there’s not a once-size-fits-all approach.
Celebrating socially-minded entrepreneurs
Last weekend I cooked a meal for the Drivers for Change campaign. It’s an initiative led by Dame Jude Kelly, the former Artistic Director at the Southbank Centre, and Richard Collier-Keywood, who was previously the Global Vice Chairman of PwC and my ‘partner in crime’ for Brigade, as he helped me set it up. They’re two amazing people who are inspiring young social entrepreneurs through this project.
For the last two weeks, they’ve been on a bus going around the UK with 80 young entrepreneurs, showcasing some of the best social enterprises around the country. When they came to London at the weekend, myself and two of our apprentices cooked our hearts out to put on a meal at the Southbank Centre for these young people, who had been eating dinner off their laps on a bus for the previous fortnight! I was proud to be part of an amazing and engaging day for people who are trying to put their skills and life experiences into something socially minded. Last year I was nominated as a Southbank Centre Change Maker, so it was also great to go back there and be part of the community. The Southbank Centre really is an incredible place, both culturally and for its inspirational, community-focused structure.
We also did a Brigade takeover with the Hospitality Banking Team from Barclays Bank last week. The team got in the kitchen and cooked lunch for some of their best clients, from Everyman Cinemas to Young’s Pubs, raising £7,500 for Beyond Food in the process. We also made some great connections with their clients who can help us with potential work experience for our apprentices. This fell during the same week that Beyond Food also got funding from The Salters’ Livery Company and The Fishmongers’ Livery Company.
What really inspires me about the work I do is how so many things connect. I’m passionate about supporting young social entrepreneurs and new socially-minded ideas. But it’s also amazing that big companies and organisations support our ideas and initiatives at Brigade and Beyond Food just as much.
My visit to The Pig this week inspired me to create my own porchetta recipe - newly added to me recipe section.
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