They gave advice on career opportunities and shared their experience on designing menus, creating healthy and nutritious dishes and exceeding their guests’ expectations.
James Frost, 18, who is studying 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.”
The chefs were optimistic and confident that the industry would recover from the impact of COVID and there would be opportunities for new chefs and apprentices in their kitchens.
Alain Roux, Chef Patron of The Waterside Inn in 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.”
Brian Turner, best known for his TV appearances on This Morning and Ready, Steady, Cook, recommended students to have a career plan. “Be like a sponge, absorb everything, work as much as you can” he said.
The chefs also told students how they find inspiration for their menus and spoke about the recent increase in appetite for more vegetarian and vegan cooking.
Andrew Wong, Chef Patron of A Wong restaurant in Victoria, explained how he initially put his own twist on dishes that had inspired him on trips to the Far East.
Gary Jones, Executive Chef at Raymond Blanc’s restaurant Le Manoir near Oxford, said he took inspiration from the seasonal produce grown in its grounds. He said: “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.”
Cyrus Todiwala, Proprietor and Chef at Café Spice Namasté in Newham, who has appeared on TV shows including Saturday Kitchen, 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 said.
Andy Aston, Head of Wellness and Nutrition at catering provider Baxter Storey, also extolled the virtues of a plant-based diet and how he uses nuts, grains and vegetables in much of his cooking.
Chantelle Nicholson, Chef Patron at Tredwells, agreed on the importance of using ethically sourced ingredients when creating dishes. “I believe in regeneratively farmed meat and sustainable fish. I think we can and should do everything better,” she said.
Cherish Finden, Executive Pastry Chef at Pan Pacific London and a judge on 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.
The chefs also spoke about the important connection between healthy eating and a healthy mind, particularly in relation to anxiety during lockdown. Simon Boyle, Founder of Beyond Food Foundation, explained how 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, advised students to consider opportunities across the sector from hotel kitchens and restaurants to football stadiums, cruise ships and contract catering. On getting into the industry, he said: “Make sure your passion and attitude comes across as much as you can. Let me buy into you as a person, especially at interview.”
All the chefs recommended the advice and support available through professional organisations including the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts and the Craft Guild of Chefs.
WestKing is one of the country’s leading colleges for hospitality and culinary arts courses and apprenticeships. Paul Jervis, Head of School for Hospitality and Culinary Arts at WestKing, 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.”