Masterchef: The Professionals champion Nikita Pathakji has told how her apprenticeship at Westminster Kingsway College gave her the skills and experience for culinary success.
Nikita, 25, from Clapham, became the second former apprentice from the college to win the grand final of the BBC TV series following Alex Webb’s triumph in the competition in 2020.
She said: “This is incredible. I can’t put it into words. This surpasses every achievement of my life. I don’t know how I’m going to top this. This is it, this is the peak, I think I’ve reached it!”
Her winning menu featured a starter of seabass cured in citrus dressing with smoked aubergine and spiced red pepper purées, followed by a main of crispy chicken thighs, tortellini filled with chicken, mushrooms and coriander topped with a coconut curry sauce, and for dessert a cardamom custard tart with poached apricots and a honey tuile.
Masterchef presenter Gregg Wallace said: “Nikita opened up the larder of the world and brought us dish after stunning dish after stunning dish.”
Michelin-star chef Marcus Wareing said “She’s a chef that has grown right in front of our eyes. Her food has been sublime,” while fellow judge, chef and restauranteur Anna Haugh, added: “Nikita is on the road to creating a very unique cuisine. And that is why she’s our champion.”
Nikita, who works as a Junior Sous Chef at Michelin-star restaurant Kitchen W8 in Kensington, trained at the college’s School for Hospitality and Culinary Arts in Victoria from 2016-19.
She undertook Level 2 and Level 3 apprenticeships, sponsored by The Worshipful Company of Cooks, at The Lanesborough in Knightsbridge and Claude Bosi at Bibendum in Kensington.
Nikita said: “My apprenticeship at Westminster Kingsway was a fantastic way to gain important foundational knowledge and skills, which compounded with real experience working in restaurant kitchens, set me up with both the skills and qualifications I needed to work in top Michelin-starred restaurants.
“I’m so glad I started my career on this apprenticeship. The guidance and extra support that made the job a little less daunting when I first started out.”
Nikita grew up in Derby and lived in India with her family for two years from the age of nine. As a child she would prepare meals with her mum, which inspired her love of Asian cooking.
After her apprenticeship at WestKing, she travelled for nine months around South East Asia, which further deepened her passion and appreciation for the region’s flavours and culinary styles.
Sharon Barry, Head of School for Hospitality and Culinary Arts Apprenticeships, said: “Nikita was a dedicated, passionate and highly motivated learner during her time at WestKing. It comes as no surprise that she has continued to grow and thrive within her culinary career.
“Winning Masterchef: The Professionals is a fantastic achievement, and we are all incredibly proud of her. She is a huge inspiration to all our current learners who has shown anything is possible if you believe in yourself and follow your dreams.”
At the start of this academic year, Michelin-star chef Michel Roux welcomed our new Hospitality and Culinary Arts students and apprentices to Westminster Kingsway College. Here he shares more about his passion for cooking and how to be a success in the industry.
You did an apprenticeship. Can you tell us about your first day at college?
I remember when I started at college and my very first day, getting dressed up and making sure I was presentable but feeling really nervous, but those lovely nerves of excitement. It was such an exciting time going to college at what was the beginning of a wonderful journey.
What advice would you give to aspiring chefs?
I have always advised them to go to college. I think it is so, so important to have a proper qualification in our industry, in fact in any industry. College might seem unnecessary at times because you are learning so much in your workplace [on an apprenticeship] but it is 100 per cent necessary to do your qualification work.
What do you remember about your apprenticeship?
I absolutely loved my apprenticeship. An apprenticeship is amazing. It’s not just learning for skills, but it’s also life skills. That’s why I will always recommend an apprenticeship with a college. I remember my final exam, and what I had to cook. I don’t think I will ever forget that, but I passed with flying colours.
How do you cope with the pressure of running a busy kitchen?
There’s always pressure. If you don’t enjoy pressure, then maybe you’re not cut out to work in this industry. I enjoy sport and I find that is a great release and a way to work with pressure, even if it’s only 15-20 minutes of physical exercise it’s great for your mental health.
What do you look for when recruiting a new chef?
It’s difficult to put it in a nutshell, but above all it’s a passion and desire to learn. You never stop learning. I’m still learning at my age and that’s important. This industry is continuously changing and evolving and that’s what makes it so enjoyable.
What do you think of the chef training at WestKing?
This is one of the best colleges in London. The Roux family have been sending its apprentices here for 40 years. The people who train here achieve greatness. There are lots of opportunities in our industry. Whatever you choose to do always remember to keep smiling and enjoy it, and maybe one day some of you will be working alongside me.
Why is hospitality such a great sector to work in?
I love everything about hospitality. If you want to work in our industry, you should be proud of that because it has so much to give, and you get so much personal satisfaction. I love what I do every day. I get up, jump out of bed and really look forward to my day ahead because every day is different, and every day is a different challenge. There’s a job for everyone at every level. Whether you’re aiming to be a Michelin-star chef or front of house, a sommelier or a waiter working up to management, find a place where you are happy.
Michelin-star chef Michel Roux welcomed newly enrolled Hospitality and Culinary Arts students and apprentices as they got a flavour of life at Westminster Kingsway College.
Around 350 aspiring chefs, hoteliers and waiters attended the event at the college’s Victoria Centre on 13 September, which included cookery demonstrations, fun games and activities and trade stands from many of the hospitality industry suppliers that work with the college.
Michel, who owns La Gavroche restaurant in Mayfair, insisted there was a job for everyone in hospitality whether in the kitchen or front of house and stressed the importance of qualifications.
He said: “This is one of the best colleges in London. The Roux family have been sending its apprentices here for 40 years. The people who train here, like your good selves, achieve greatness.
“There are lots and lots of opportunities in our industry. Whatever you choose to do, always remember to keep smiling and enjoy it, and maybe one day some of you will be working alongside me.”
The new students enjoyed plenty of fun activities including trying their hand at icing and decorating cupcakes, making a crepe suzette and mixing mocktails.
WestKing works with a wide range of culinary industry partners, many of which were represented at the event.
Students learnt about the supply of fruit and vegetables with DDP Ltd and how to blend their own smoothies using various ingredients with kitchen equipment supplier Thermomix.
The event also featured stands from the Craft Guild of Chefs, The Caterer magazine, catering suppliers Flint & Flame, Koppert Cress and Mozzo Coffee, Compass Group and HRC, an annual expo for hospitality and food service professionals.
Also present was BSG, which gives hospitality and culinary students the opportunity to gain internships at prestigious private clubs, hotels and resorts in the United States.
Students got to try Afro-Caribbean inspired flavoured ice creams from Ice Cream & Ting, started by former WestKing student Opy Odutayo, who is a chef at Mortimer House in Fitzrovia.
There was also a free to enter raffle to win prizes including two tickets to see the musical Wicked at The Apollo, a basket of fruit, a chopping board from Rough Stuff Oak, a kitchen knife from Flint & Flame, a £50 Amazon voucher and copies of In a Class of Their Own, a book on the WestKing’s hospitality and culinary school’s history.
Hospitality and Culinary Arts at WestKing
We are the UK’s leading school of Hospitality & Culinary Arts with our world-class facilities, on site restaurants, leading chef lecturers and guest speakers plus links and collaborations with the international hospitality industry.
Apply for Hospitality and Culinary Arts courses
Sam Neil, 16, who has just started a Professional Chef Level 1 Diploma, said: “I’ve been interested in cooking for a few years. One of my grandad’s friends runs a catering company and suggested I look at working in hospitality. She said if you want to be a chef you should go to WestKing. My careers adviser at school told me it’s the best college they know for hospitality.
“Being a chef involves long hours, tough work but it’s a rewarding career. You get to show what you’re about through the food, rather than sitting in an office doing work you’re not interested in.
“I’ve really enjoyed today. It’s been good to meet some chefs and get a feel for what the hospitality industry is like. I’m only in the first few weeks of training and getting the basics done, but I’m properly excited to start cooking, get to know people and about the whole college experience.”
Ellie Paphitis, also 16 and studying the same course, said: “I’ve been enjoying cooking since I was young, especially baking and making pastries. I was going to go to sixth form and do A Levels, but I changed my mind because I wanted to do something I was really passionate about. I’ve tried a lot of things, but cooking is the one thing I’ve stuck with in my life. I also have a lot of influences in my family because they like to cook as well.
“A lot of us are aspiring to be like Michel Roux and it was very motivational and inspiring to hear from him. It made me feel like I’m not so far away, and if I really try my best and work towards what I want to be, then I can do it.
“There has been lots going on today. I’ve tried some fruits, vegetables and some garnishes. I’ve not heard of any other college doing anything like this. I’ve been able to speak to other students and teachers. It’s really brought everyone together.”
The Burnt Chef Project, which provides mental health support for the UK hospitality industry, also attended the event along with other support organisations including SASH London, Mind, Insight and WestKing’s own Student Services team.
Miranda Quantrill, Curriculum Manager for Hospitality and Culinary Arts, said: “We were delighted to officially welcome our new students and apprentices starting this year, as well giving our second and third years an opportunity to network and have fun, and what could be more exciting than to have Michel Roux inspire them as they start their hospitality journey!
“The day was a hive of activity and gave students the chance to settle into life at college – which can be quite daunting if you have just left school – and to find out more about the incredible industry they will be gaining the skills and knowledge to work in over the next few years.”
Figures show that one in six new jobs created in the UK over the past year was in the hospitality sector, the equivalent of 133,000 new roles. Find out more about out Hospitality and Culinary courses here and apprenticeship here. Enrol now.
A chef lecturer and an apprentice from Westminster Kingsway College are celebrating after being named winners in the prestigious Craft Guild of Chef Awards 2022.
Jose Souto, who has taught at the college for 18 years, scooped the Chef Lecturer Award, while chef de partie apprentice Grace Hawksley was presented with the Apprentice Chef Award.
The Craft Guild of Chefs Awards recognise exceptional talent in the industry, from apprentice and young chefs starting out to established chefs in hospitality, pubs and restaurants.
Jose and Grace received their awards from Andrew Green, Chief Executive of the Craft Guild of Chefs, and Nick Vadis, Culinary Director of Compass Group UK respectively, at a glittering ceremony at Magazine London in Greenwich on 9 June.
Before joining WestKing, Jose had worked as a Chef de Partie at the House of Commons for more than 20 years where he began as a sous chef. During this time he also worked at The Ritz, The InterContinental, Mosimann’s and the Savoy Grill.
Grace, 19, from Haywards Heath, is undertaking her Level 3 Apprenticeship at the four-star Gravetye Manor hotel in East Grinstead having completed a Commis Chef Level 2 Apprenticeship last year.
Young chef Lorcán wins Compass Apprentice Chef of the Year
WestKing commis chef apprentice Lorcán Leavy has been named Compass Group UK’s Apprentice Chef of the Year.
Lorcán, from Tower Hamlets, was among eight apprentice chefs who took part in a competition at the contract catering company’s head office in Chertsey to win the award.
Each chef was tasked with creating two courses in two hours using a mystery box of ingredients that included chicken, mackerel and seasonal produce.
Lorcán, who is training with Restaurant Associates, said: “I’m really happy to have won, it’s been a really good learning experience and has taught me to stay calm under pressure.”
All the entrants have been invited to cook at the Apprenticeship of the Year dinner at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in July.
Congratulating Jose and Grace on behalf of the WestKing hospitality and culinary team, WestKing Assistant Principal Terry Tinton said: “Jose is an amazing educator that dedicates his work and personal time to training and supporting the next generation of chefs.
“As a senior lecturer he works tirelessly to ensure the college engages with the industry and that our curriculum offer exceeds the needs of our partners.
“Grace has always been an exceptional student and this accolade is a testament to her hard work and professionalism. The entire apprenticeship team has done a fantastic job, training, mentoring and support Grace through her studies.”
Steve Munkley, Vice President of the Craft Guild of Chefs, said: “This has been a year of exceptional challenges and I am so proud to see that we have so many worthy winners.”
Have you considered a career in the exciting hospitality industry? Chefs are in demand throughout the UK and London is a major culinary hotspot, so you too could follow Jose and Grace into the kitchen by studying at Westminster Kingsway College – one of the UK’s top culinary schools. Apply now for Hospitality and Culinary Arts courses and apprenticeships.
To mark Hospitality Apprenticeships Week (18-22 October), we spoke to Craig Parsons, Apprenticeship Manager at Fuller, Smith & Turner, about apprenticeships and careers with the company’s 400 pubs, bars and hotels.
Tell us about your career in hospitality.
I’m a chef by trade but my job is to manage the apprenticeships for the whole Fuller’s estate.
Although I studied for a Sports Biomedicine degree, I loved cooking and wanted to pursue a career in the kitchen. At the time you couldn’t do an apprenticeship if you had a degree, so I applied for various jobs instead. I was given the opportunity to trial working in a kitchen, which eventually led to working for two AA rosette pubs.
I read a lot of books and developed my own style and role in restaurants, ski chalets and hotels. I’ve also been involved in food development for big supermarkets and worked for an apprenticeship provider. Because I couldn’t get on an apprenticeship myself, I wanted to give other people the education they deserve.
Tell us more about Fuller’s relationship with WestKing.
We began running Commis Chef and Chef de Partie apprenticeships with WestKing in 2019 and currently have 30 apprentices training. The college is renowned for being one of the best educational establishments for cookery in the world and we’re delighted they’re now in our network of education providers.
Whenever we look to work with a college, we always send our staff out to experience a class for themselves. You cannot fail to be impressed by WestKing’s prestige and ethos and we know the apprentices are going to be trained to the highest standards.
What skills will apprentices gain during their apprenticeship?
Our apprenticeships are about giving people the best education, not just for now but for later in life. At Fuller’s, we don’t always need to prep food from start to finish, but we still train our chefs with those skills because we know they’re going to use them in the future. It’s not just about what Fuller’s needs but about the whole industry.
The reason we use colleges is because they give students room to fail and that is often the best way to learn. From advanced pasta making to butchering, it’s important to have a safe environment where you can get advice and have room to improve.
What do you look for in an apprentice?
Ultimately, we’re looking for people with the right attitude, who want to get out of bed in the morning and have the drive to come to an interview and apply themselves at work and college. I don’t want anyone to feel they can’t join our apprenticeship programme.
Why is hospitality such a good career?
A career in hospitality can take you anywhere. I always had in my head that I didn’t want to stay in one environment for more than two years, although I’ve been at Fuller’s for seven years now.
At Fuller’s, you can move around and gain experience in many different environments and still have the security of a large company that offers great pay and benefits. You can earn from day one, add your own twist to dishes on the menus and become a head chef in four or five years.
What advice would you give to anyone considering a hospitality career?
Don’t just look at the name of the employer you want to work for, look at the training you’re going to get. Sometimes it’s not clear exactly what training is being offered. Make sure you know what you’re signing up for.
How is Fuller’s responding to the impact of the COVID pandemic?
COVID has had such an impact. The Government wants to push everyone into STEM careers. I can understand the motivation behind it but we’re starting to see big gaps across the hospitality sector.We need them to react to what’s going on and recognise the industry needs help to get people trained and into work.
There is going to be a new population of people looking for hospitality careers and there’s also a lot of untapped potential out there.At Fuller’s, we’re looking to expand our apprenticeship team and ways to increase awareness of apprenticeships across the sector.
We’re also planning further school liaisons to engage with young people.We’ve previously ran school events where we would teach the students skills such as how to fillet a fish and have had candidates coming forward off the back of that, so we know it works.
What are the benefits of being an apprentice with Fuller’s?
We started with a chef apprenticeship programme in 2016 because that is where we had a skills shortage. We started with 16 apprentices and now have more than 120 across the business. As well as chef apprenticeships we also run training programmes for our front of house and general managers. One of the biggest benefits is that we offer all our apprentices a permanent role upon completion of their programme. Fuller’s is also making big changes to its current pay and benefits package. We’re already industry leading with our apprenticeship pay and about to offer the highest national pay rate.
The learning opportunities are endless. Our apprentices can compete in our annual Chef of the Year competition, where past winners have had the chance to visit Michelin star restaurants in New York and Hong Kong. We also provide visits to our supply chain to see how our meat and produce is sourced and prepared.
Fuller’s has also won awards pre-COVID including Best Apprenticeship Training Programme at the British Institute of Innkeeping National Innovation in Training Awards and a silver award for Best Apprenticeship Programme at the Training Journal Awards.
How are our current apprentices doing?
They are all loving their apprenticeships and have remained positive despite COVID. They say it’s been tough but are seeing the positive impact the training is going to have on their future careers. There will always be cases where some people are struggling but we’ve got the support mechanisms in place to help them one-to-one and through the Licensed Trade Charity.
How do you see your partnership with WestKing developing?
I’ve been to an induction day at WestKing and plan to go and see some of the cookery sessions next year. I’m keen to get our general managers and head chefs along to the college and help co-train and co-assess learners, which will not only remind them of culinary techniques but also teach them about new trends and increase their skillset.
All apprenticeships at Fuller’s are advertised on our website and on job sites like indeed.co.uk. Successful applicants will be assessed by a college on their suitability for an apprenticeship.
WestKing runs Hospitality and Culinary Arts apprenticeships with many companies across the sector. Click here to Apply Now.