Kevin Beckett, commis chef at Cambridge’s Robinson College, has a huge passion for learning about hospitality
How did you find your way into the hospitality industry?
I had to leave school very early. I come from a family of seven and my mum and dad divorced when I was very young, so leaving school and getting into work was a priority for the family.
I started out doing odd jobs as a catering assistant, and found very quickly that I had a real passion for food. I worked at some amazing places, but I got my big break when Gary Dougan, head chef at Robinson College, gave me the opportunity to put the whites on and talked about training.
What are you doing now and how did you get there?
Seven and a half years ago I came to Robinson College, where my position was to maintain and look after the kitchen. My head chef knew when I came for the interview that I had a little culinary experience, but I wasn’t qualified in any department.
One day he needed help, and it became clear to him that I could step in and assist. I ended up spending more time in chef whites than blues, and it was a wonderful opportunity. He sat me down for a one-on-one and asked if I would like some formal training, and it went from there.
It was clear to Gary that I was passionate about food and he put me in for my NVQ Level 3 advanced apprenticeship in professional cookery.
Did you know right away this industry was for you?
I did, from a very young age. I’m from Newcastle and came to Cambridge 25 years ago, working in a couple of colleges previously in their catering departments.
I always had head chefs and managers saying ‘yes, we’d like to put you through your qualifications’ but nothing ever happened. It wasn’t until I arrived at Robinson that this promise became a reality. When Gary says something he does it. The last six years in these chef’s whites, I’ve never stopped smiling.
What training opportunities have you been given?
I’m 50 years old now, and it’s amazing. I’m about to finish my first year of Level 3 and I have another ahead of me. I have an assessment every three weeks where I have to do specific dishes. That puts me to the test to see how I am getting on and developing.
Have you had a mentor?
Without a doubt, my mentor is Gary. He will go to any lengths to ensure I can develop both professionally and personally. I also have my course assessor, Chris Burrows, who comes in regularly and keeps me focused and driven.
What was the most inspiring/rewarding day in your career?
I recently spent a day at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where I assisted at a special seven-course ‘Fish Feast’ dinner for charity. I found myself working alongside the likes of Mark Poynton, Phil Thompson and Adam Simmonds – there were six Michelin stars there. It was an exhilarating experience and I don’t know if it gets better than that, really.
What has your hospitality salary allowed you to do?
I have a family, I have the most wonderful, wonderful wife and son, and we haven’t had to suffer with any bills. We have two cars, our own house, we go on holidays. Obviously, there is also overtime in catering, which helps augment the salary. It’s given me the chance to have everything that I could not have when I was younger.
Would you recommend the industry to others?
Most definitely. I love coming into work. My hours start at 7.30, but I’m in at 6.50, raring to go every single day. Nothing’s a problem, and I love the challenges presented by the catering college. I don’t know what I’m going to do when the course ends, I love it! I would definitely recommend this industry to others.
2008-present Chef, Robinson College, Cambridge
2007-2008 Chef, YHA Cambridge
2005-2007 Handyman, Magdelene College, Cambridge