Galvin Restaurants and Lexington Catering are pooling their resources to offer top apprenticeships to passionate young chefs. Neil Gerrard finds out more
What's better than an apprenticeship at a top restaurant or catering company? An apprenticeship at two, obviously.
That isn't quite what apprentices get with Galvin Restaurants and Elior-owned Lexington Catering, but it isn't far off, thanks to a pioneering new scheme that has seen the two companies team up to offer their young recruits the best of what both have to offer.
But how did the partnership come about? Rob Kirby, chef-director at Lexington, and Chris and Jeff Galvin, the founders of Galvin Restaurants, go back several years and have always got on well. But it was their concern about the availability of staff that brought them together to work on a shared apprenticeship programme.
"I think it is critical that we do something about the dwindling skills pool in this industry," says Chris. "Once City and Guilds 706/1/2/3 was taken out [the early 1990s saw the launch of National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) and many businesses moved across to them from City & Guilds-accredited courses], nothing ever really replaced it.
Chris and Jeff therefore approached Kirby to see how they might help each other in developing young chefs. It was an idea that appealed to Kirby, who says that the similar ethos of both businesses was an important deciding factor.
"The foundation has been built over the years that we have known each other," says Kirby. "Both companies have integrity, which is really important to me. And so the trust is there. We had a guy, Ollie Jordan, who left us as a commis and went to Galvin La Chapelle. He worked there to get the first star and Chris eventually told us he was ready to come back to us - that is real trust.
"Chefs shouldn't just go around nicking each other's staff, but the world has changed and the whole industry is crying out for people, so it makes them more aggressive. But I think if you grow your own they tend to trust you and then they tend to stay with you."
And so the two businesses have set about building a complementary apprenticeship programme that sees 16- to 18-year-olds, as well as older applicants, apply to both firms and undertake structured learning programmes within whichever business they join. The two run market and supplier visits together, as well as chef forums and other events.
Of course, Chris, Jeff and Kirby haven't done this alone - they have had help from team members in both of their respective companies, notably Warren Geraghty, executive chef at Galvin Restaurants, his colleague, group head chef Kevin Tew, and Murray Tapiki, development chef at Lexington.
L to R: Daniel Goldfarb, apprentice chef de partie, GLG Partners, Lexington; Warren Geraghty, executive chef at Galvin Restaurants;
Chris Galvin; Rob Kirby, chef-director, Lexington; Charlie Smith, apprentice, Galvin La Chapelle; and Murray Tapiki, development chef, Lexington
Both organisations originally started their apprenticeship schemes independently of each other. Kirby admits that it wasn't all smooth sailing at the start and that they did get certain things wrong. "We started our apprenticeship four years ago and Mike [Sunley, chief executive of Lexington] said to me that he wanted to do an apprenticeship and wanted it set up within two months. We thought the right thing to do would be to put 16-year-olds straight out of school into really busy kitchens, but it wasn't really. They did better in kitchens that could nurture them, rather than throwing them into a great big hotbox. We also learned that our head chefs needed training on how to manage 16-year-olds."
"We certainly got it wrong at the start, but it is obvious from the directorship down that we want to pass on not just these skills, but our passion," adds Tapiki. "Watching people flourish is the best thing about this apprenticeship."
Geraghty has also seen apprentices reach great heights, thanks to the programme Galvin Restaurants has introduced. "We have got examples of chefs going from grassroots all the way up to head chef at Galvin at Windows in a Michelin-starred kitchen. Our first apprentice to pass out through the whole programme was Chris's oldest son, Emile. He is now a mentor to the guys below him. It is not just about creating a workforce, it is about creating a teaching workforce and one that can help pass down the learning and the messages."
Both programmes work in a similar way: apprentices are given a full week in the kitchens and attend college one day a week. At Lexington they will start at 6.30am and work until 3.30pm. During the day they will be responsible for setting up their own section, running it, and assisting their head chefs during service so they are getting the full insight into the workings of a kitchen.
At Galvin they start at around 8am but otherwise the schedule is similar. "On top of that, we add in masterclasses, so we have a master butcher based up in Cumbria, who comes in and breaks down carcasses," says Geraghty. "The whole point of doing it is to get that excitement going. We also do really good supplier visits, because Lexington and Galvin have great relationships with suppliers. They get to see the ingredients, but they also understand and respect the ingredients and I think that is great learning for them."
The companies are inspired by the "brilliant" job that the colleges do, taking inspiration from events such as trips to Rungis market in Paris for their own events and masterclasses.
But the partnership goes far beyond simply sharing supplier visits. As Kirby points out, the ability to arrange job swaps is a major advantage to the arrangement. "Our apprentices at Lexington can swap over so that they can experience the top-calibre restaurants that the Galvins have got, and equally the Galvin apprentices can come into our world and see what is happening in a very different environment, whether that is the directors' dining rooms or staff restaurants that serve 3,000 people a day," he says.
Every four to six weeks there is also a chefs' forum for all of the apprentices, as well as the launch this year of a culinary competition - the Galvin and Lexington Apprentice Challenge Cup, which was held at the Hotelympia show in London's ExCeL centre.
The event, which took place in March, saw Emily Clarke, chef de partie at GLG Partners, Lexington Catering, and Charlie Smith at Galvin La Chapelle both win gold for their dishes, with six silvers and two bronze also awarded.
"The competition was Warren, Rob and Murray's brainchild, but I have always been a great believer in competitions as an add-on to education because they teach you a lot about yourself," explains Chris.
"You learn after a couple of competitions that it is not the people you are competing against but yourself. Can you reach down into your boots and improve what you do? I think what Murray, Rob and Warren did at Hotelympia was incredible. It put a lump in my throat to see the guys there - and they cooked at such a high level. In all 10 pens, everyone put up a starter and a main course that would grace any restaurant table and some better. Unfortunately, they have set the bar now!"
This is just the start of the partnership - there are plans for other collaborations and courses in the future. But what have the two companies learned so far? "The partnership has been going for lots of years in various shapes and forms," says Kirby. "This just makes things a bit more official, but it goes back to having a real core friendship, loyalty, trust and integrity. Those three things are really powerful. We want to do something for the next generation in the industry."
But aside from further collaboration between their own two companies, Chris would like to see similar initiatives in other businesses. "I would implore others - restaurants and hotels - to do their bit. It is an investment - in year one head chefs look at their payroll if they are getting four chefs a week and they struggle to see the value. But when year two comes around, just you try moving themâ¦"
How to find an apprentice
The Galvin Restaurant and Lexington Catering apprentices come from a range of sources. Galvin Restaurants recruits via Westminster Kingsway College (which runs its own selection process), the Galvin's Chance charity and the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts' apprenticeship scheme.
"We look for people who show a real desire to be a chef and make a career for themselves," says Geraghty. "That is enough for us and we will take it from there to help us achieve it. We have a young lad at the moment who is running the pastry in Baker Street and I was there this morning and he was turning out the tartes tatin at 8.15am, which means he had been in since 7am - and they were perfect. He has done that through proper hard work, being given a chance and a bit of extra encouragement."
Chris Galvin is full of praise for the colleges. "I think it is really important to say how hard colleges, notably Westminster Kingsway, work," he says. "It is unbelievable how hard Simon Stocker and Tony Cameron have worked under Gary Hunter. There are too many commentators in the industry who knock colleges, but have never been into one and don't know what goes on."
Lexington works with the University of West London with Michael Coaker and his team, whose apprenticeship scheme is run in conjunction with the Royal Academy, Springboard and Jamie Oliver's Fifteen. It also finds apprentices through in-house recommendations and work experience.
"We do a formal interview and then there are three steps: a cook-off, a week working in a professional kitchen, and a formal interview with the directors," says Tapiki. "The main criteria is enthusiasm. If they have the drive and enthusiasm, we will direct them and teach them how to cook."
L to R: Oli Varney, Evans Obeng, Danny Leung, Krishans Makol, Meliki Yacine,
Matteo Bernardini, Francesca Owen and Samuel Kusi
Employing for equality
Fewer than one in five professional chefs in the UK is female, according to recent figures from the Office for National Statistics, so it is notable that Lexington has had more female apprentices than male in its ranks (10 female and nine male over five years).
One star performer is Emily Clarke, chef de partie at GLG Partners, who in March took gold at the Lexington and Galvin Apprentice Challenge Cup at Hotelympia in London.
Three out of 12 of Galvin Restaurants' current intake of apprentice chefs are female.
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