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Junior chefs have a long history

15 June 2006

Having read your article about the Junior Chefs Academy (Caterer, 11 May, page 34), and as the creator of I'm A Junior Chef at Grimsby College in 1996, I was disappointed that the article stated that other colleges needed to get on board.

I'm A Junior Chef was designed to inspire school kids on Saturdays with fun and interesting training programmes. In 1997, I took 32 youngsters to Winteringham Fields restaurant for a fantastic Saturday lunch, a lasting and life-changing memory for some of the junior chefs at that time.

I'm A Junior Chef at Grimsby College became so popular that we had to create I'm A Teen Chef to try to separate teenagers from those who were aged 10 and 11. Here at Norwich, we have more than 100 10- to 16-year-olds cooking weekly.

A key aspect of I'm A Junior Chef is that it was made freely available to other colleges. In fact, since 1996, Russum's of Rotherham has held and distributed information about the Junior Chefs programme to more than 30 other colleges.

A derivative of I'm A Junior Chef is the National Junior Chef Competition, hosted and co-ordinated by Paul Norman at Thanet College. The National Junior Chefs competition has been in operation for five years.

Following a presentation at the National Conference for the Professional Association of Catering Education, a number of London colleges amended the idea to inspire kids into their kitchens. After an approach by a London college, Compass got involved to subsidise costs.

In the late 1990s, I wrote an article for Hospitality Network Newsflash about the Junior Programme, hoping to inspire others. Your article implies that only Thames Valley University (TVU) is doing anything. Way before I designed I'm A Junior Chef, Coventry College was already doing a Saturday club. I, and a member of staff from Coventry, wrote a qualification for Edexcel which would recognise the skills and abilities of the Junior Chefs. I think it is still readily available.

Obesity is a national issue, particularly in the young. Based on the success of the Junior Chefs programme, in January 2003 I spoke at a policy conference about the Health of the Nation. I proposed that a nationwide junior chefs programme - and not a GCSE in Food Technology - would go a long way to reducing the impact of obesity.

Equality is an issue for youngsters who wish to go to a college on a Saturday. In some cases, the course is almost free, while for others they have to pay more than £100 for the same privilege. In 2003, I wrote to the national Learning and Skills Council in order to establish some parity in terms of ability to pay. Unfortunately, as the LSC at that time only funded post-16, it was unable to assist with funding for all junior chefs courses across the UK.

I understand from colleagues in London that they are unable to attract sponsorship from industry and therefore struggle.

I also understand that TVU, and in particular Compass, will be keen to generate recognition and PR for this activity. Good luck to them. However, it has been known for some time that other colleges around the UK have been offering a Saturday Junior Chefs course.

If your article has increased the awareness of Saturday Junior Chefs courses and inspired industry to support their local college, well done - we all could do with help.

Mick Cooper
City College, Norwich

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