The centre director and head of culinary arts at Westminster Kingsway celebrates his 15-year anniversary with the college in June. Lisa Jenkins finds out about the lessons he’s learned during his career
My hospitality career began when I studied full-time at college on a professional chef course while working part-time at a local hotel in Essex. My early career was spent in Zurich in Switzerland at the Dolder Grand hotel, then at Suvretta House in St Moritz. I returned to London to work at the Le Méridien Piccadilly before working at Westminster for more than eight years.
I had no intention of going into teaching. It was a chance conversation that led me to Westminster Kingsway College and then a very steep learning curve! I began as a chef-lecturer teaching the full-time first years, then on to the foundation degree in culinary arts. I then progressed to head of year, then programme manager, then head of faculty and finally centre director.
At Westminster Kingsway, our focus is about working closely with the industry. We develop our curriculum to engage with the industry at every possible opportunity – whether that’s with masterclasses, Q&As, site visits, work experience or ensuring all the lecturers are up to date with trends. The curriculum revolves around real-life experience. Everything is made on-site; it’s hard work for the students, but they leave with all the tools to succeed.
This year our students were asked to cook and serve at the Imax when the Michelin stars were revealed. This was in recognition of the high standards we have here.
I think we are suffering from both a skills shortage and a people shortage. The industry is so short-staffed that they are promoting too quickly to fill gaps – years ago you would be a commis for five years and really earn your stripes, but nowadays young students are becoming sous chefs within a year or two. The fundamentals take time to master.
As a member of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts and a supporter of the Adopt a School initiative, I visit schools very regularly. It’s great to inspire children to think about our profession. The team here at the college visit secondary schools every month with our current students to showcase what is possible and the career opportunities available to them. We also have courses endorsed and supported by both the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts and the Craft Guild of Chefs.
Funding for culinary colleges is always an issue. Each year the government makes cuts and we have to find innovative ways to deliver the best possible training.
Operators can help us by engaging with the college and shouting about how exciting our industry is. We have to communicate the positives and, by working together, we can reduce the skills gap and show the next generation what a career in hospitality looks like.
I can’t think of a better industry to be in. It’s hard work, long hours and the pay could be better, but despite that, every night you go home knowing that you’ve given your guests pleasure, and there’s no better feeling than that. Watching guests smile and give you feedback is amazing. There are so many strands to the industry and helping our young trainees succeed is really worthwhile.
The best piece of advice I have been given is work hard, focus on attention to detail and look after your staff.
The Roux brothers are an inspiration. I remember reading an early book of theirs and I was mesmerised. Their focus, quality of ingredients and technical skills inspired me to become a chef. Now we host the Roux scholarship final at the college – this makes me very proud.
2018-present Centre director and head of culinary arts, Westminster Kingsway College
2016-2018 Head of faculty for hospitality, Westminster Kingsway College
2006-2016 Programme manager, Westminster Kingsway College, London
2000-2006 Sous chef, House of Commons, London
1998-2000 Sous chef, Le Méridien Piccadilly
1996-1998 Senior chef de partie, Le Méridien Piccadilly, London
1995-1996 Senior chef de partie, Suvretta House, St Moritz, Switzerland
1994-1995 Senior chef de partie, Dolder Grand hotel, Zurich, Switzerland