Two months into the college year and life couldn't be busier. Just this week we've had Peter Kingston, editor of the education supplement of the Guardian, following a group of first-year students from the start of the course until they finish in June.
He'll write three reports, one each term, on how the students have coped with their first year at the college, and their aspirations for the future when they leave.
Then on Friday Peter Hain, MP for Neath and Port Talbot, who stayed for a meal in the Paragon restaurant, visited us. On the same day we held a Masterchef day with Ralph Pitts, the Welsh representative of Springboard, for the local schoolchildren who have just won the first round of FutureChef 2004. With the help of Craft Guild of Chef members, Bernard Rossi, Steven White and his brother Richard, we staged a day of competition skills, menu-planning, cooking techniques, and presentation skills.
The children took part in a really exciting and rewarding day of encouragement, helpful advice and hands-on classes. The competitors now have four weeks in which to turn their ideas and the advice given to them by the professional chefs into competition-winning dishes.
The winner of the college heat will compete in the Welsh final to be held in Cardiff next month and hopefully go on to the grand final in February.
To finish the week off, we started this year's round of Saturday Club, a great initiative started by the college some seven years ago to encourage schoolchildren to get involved in catering. We run two classes simultaneously over a 20-week period; one class takes bakery for 10 weeks then swaps over and attends cookery lessons for the next 10 weeks. We catch the minds of eight to 10 children every year who return as full-time students.
Past Saturday Club students have made up both of the winning teams I've coached in the Nestlé Toque d'Or competitions in 2001 and 2002. Matthew John, who now works at the Cheltenham Park hotel, also won the West Wales Young Master Chef of the Year 2002 competition, and will be leaving the UK very soon to take up a position in Toronto. Students coming through from the Saturday Club always seem to achieve the most out of all my mainstream students. Could it be that they realised at an earlier age than most that the hospitality industry was the right career move for them, even before leaving school?
This is why I believe very strongly that every college should have its own Saturday Club, in some form or another. It's a great way to get into the local schools and build a relationship with the home economics teachers and careers advisers, and talk to the children about their future.
But above all it's a fantastic way to spark enthusiasm in school leavers and alert them to the possibilities that our industry holds, not only in this country but in any country in the world.