Cyrus Todiwala, Alain Roux, Cherish Finden and more inspire Westminster Kingsway College students during lockdown

07 April 2021 by
Cyrus Todiwala, Alain Roux, Cherish Finden and more inspire Westminster Kingsway College students during lockdown

Last month, students at Westminster Kingsway College in London took part in a series of virtual workshops with Michelin-starred restaurateurs and TV chefs.

In March, chefs including Alain Roux, Brian Turner, Cyrus Todiwala and Cherish Finden gave career advice to culinary arts and hospitality students, sharing their experiences on designing menus, creating healthy and nutritious dishes and exceeding guests' expectations.

James Frost, 18, who is studying for a professional chef diploma, said: "The passion the chefs had for cooking really came across and was very inspiring. They gave clear answers to my questions and explained how to present yourself and what chefs look for in an employee.

"We've been in lockdown and you can lose your motivation, but this has really helped build that up again. It gave me a lot of different options on where I could take my career and opened my eyes to new opportunities."

Alain Roux, chef-patron of the Waterside Inn in Bray, Berkshire, said: "For any person starting in the industry, I will do everything I can to open my door. Think and stay positive, as things will get back to normal and there will be a bright future."

On applying for jobs, he added: "Don't be scared, even if it's a dream. There are no names or places that are too big. If you don't try, you don't know."

The chefs also discussed how they find menu inspiration, with Andrew Wong, chef-patron of A Wong restaurant in London's Victoria, citing his trips to east Asia as his inspiration.

Gary Jones, executive chef at Raymond Blanc's Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in Great Milton, Oxfordshire, said he takes inspiration from the seasonal produce grown in the hotel's grounds: "I always start with the season and what ingredients are available, and then think how I am going to come up with something new or take something to the next level and make it even better than it was before."

Todiwala, chef-proprietor at Café Spice Namasté in London's Royal Docks, said it was important to gain a better understanding of plants to create dishes that are better for the environment.

"We are seeing a huge growth in the demand for plant-based food on our menus, and people wanting to know exactly where their food has been sourced and produced," he explained.

Andy Aston, head of wellness and nutrition at BaxterStorey, also extolled the virtues of a plant-based diet and explained how he uses nuts, grains and vegetables in much of his cooking.

Finden, executive pastry chef at Pan Pacific London and a judge on BBC's Bake Off: The Professionals, explained how she often substitutes sugar with honey and cream with coconut or soya milk to make her dishes healthier. When questioned on what employers look for in future chefs, she added that she wanted to see a spark in the person's eyes and a passion for food.

Simon Boyle, founder of Beyond Food Foundation, explained that healthy food is good for the mind and how the charity has helped homeless and vulnerable people find fulfilment through cooking.

On the importance of entering competitions, Hayden Groves, chef consultant and former National Chef of the Year, said: "Win, lose or draw, you learn a lot. You learn about ingredients and how to maximise the impact of flavour and manipulate it and how to get the best out of yourself."

Ben Purton, culinary director of the hospitality recruitment company Off To Work, who helped organise the sessions, advised students to consider opportunities across the sector from hotel kitchens and restaurants to football stadiums, cruise ships and contract catering.

Purton commented: "Make sure your passion and attitude comes across as much as you can. Let me buy into you as a person, especially at interview."

Paul Jervis, head of school for hospitality and culinary arts at Westminster Kingsway, said: "This was a fantastic opportunity for our students to get a real insight into what it takes to succeed in the culinary and hospitality industry from some of the best chefs in the country.

"I would like to thank each of the chefs for giving up their valuable time to share their wealth of knowledge and experience with the next generation of chefs we are training at WestKing, and inspiring them with their passion and enthusiasm for cooking."

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