The Gordon Ramsay Group invited The Caterer behind the scenes of its Apprenticeship Scheme as it bids to nurture new talent.
At the scheme’s first graduation ceremony, we met up with Stuart Gillies, CEO of the Gordon Ramsay Group, who founded the scheme with Ramsay, as well as mentors Paul Shearing, head chef at Bread Street Kitchen and Erion Karaj, executive chef of Bread Street Kitchen and Heddon Street Kitchen.
In the first interview given to media about the scheme, Gillies explained why the group decided to put itself at the forefront of nurturing young talent telling The Caterer: “You can moan all day about the state of the industry – the lack of talent, millennials and business rates – just get on with it and find a solution or stop moaning about it.
“We knew we had an amazing library of knowledge in the group and could offer an encyclopaedia of learning. We’re not changing the world, but can give a really good contribution to the evolution of the profession. We do it because we really believe in it and it’s a great thing to do for people who want to learn.”
The three-year scheme was created in partnership with the University of West London to provide certification up to NVQ Level 3 in Professional Cookery, Patisserie and Confectionery.
Apprentices are placed in one of Gordon Ramsay’s London restaurants to learn on the job four days a week. They are also taught about finance, hygiene and people management as well as learning kitchen skills from the group’s head chefs.
Since its inception, 36 graduates have entered the scheme and have 10 graduated so far. This year, Chor Fai Shek graduated at the event held at Union Street Café.
Shek is staying within the group, and has secured a commis chef position at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. “I went to Royal Hospital Road for lunch one day and I spoke to the chef, Clare Smyth. I followed up our meeting with a letter asking if I could do work experience. I did three weeks with her, and after she offered me this scheme and it felt silly for me to turn it down. I feel privileged.
“The most valuable thing I learnt was discipline. No matter where I go next, it’ll be engrained with me because before I had only worked in my parent’s restaurant in Northern Ireland and had never worked for anyone else. I was a blank piece of paper and now I’ve been sculpted by hard work.”
However, the graduates are not tied to the group Gillies explained: “If they decide to stay within the company then that’s great, but they are also allowed to move on – we aren’t selfishly holding on to these people.”
The aim of the apprenticeship is to inspire and encourage young people to enter the industry.
In November 2017, the Department for Education reported that the number of apprenticeship applications had dropped by 60%, following the introduction in April of the apprenticeship levy.
This was reflected within the Gordon Ramsay Apprenticeship Scheme, Shearing said. “A couple of years ago we had 80-100 applications to go through. In 2017 it was down to 50-60.”
But, the quality of the candidates saw the scheme continue to grow. Karaj explained: “This year has been the most successful in terms of the applicants. We’ve taken on board more than any other year. We do a lot more around London, going around colleges and doing demos, shouting about what we do.”
The team is looking forward to greeting the next batch of fresh-faced apprentices. Karaj said: “Seeing chefs come in with no knowledge then graduating as demi chef de parties is incredible. Over three years they’ve grown so fast and if they hadn’t been part of the scheme then they would have not gone to that level. Seeing the end product makes you want to put more in to it and help them to graduate to chef de parties next year. The benchmark is really high.”
Future plans for the scheme include expanding into other areas of the UK and international markets as well as offering front of house and office development courses.
Shearing said: “The industry has changed. If we act and carry on the same way as we did 20 years ago then we are going to die like dinosaurs. The generation that are coming through now, if we don’t adjust our learning and teaching to what they want and what they need then they won’t come to us as an industry.”
Applications for the scheme will open in April 2018, entrants can visit the website for more information. No limit has been placed on the number of spots available, but the assessment panel will be searching for applicants with the right attitude, willingness and passion for the industry.
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