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.
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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.