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The Corporation

Posted: 15/10/15

Chefs’ training scheme is a recipe for success

Aspiring chefs at leading short-break holiday operator Center Parcs are following a recipe to successful culinary careers.

  • The aspiring chefs show off their culinary creations, joined by Center Parcs' training and development manager Tracy Walker and Marcus Topley and Tony Wade from the college.
  • Emily Brennand, a commis chef at the Longleat Forest holiday village, puts the finishing touches to a tomato soup she rustled-up in the college's training kitchens.
  • Josh Holloway, a junior chef at the Elveden Forest holiday village, plates-up a macaroni cheese he made during one of the challenges.

Eighteen junior-level cooks across its five UK holiday villages have embarked on a specially-devised training scheme at West Nottinghamshire College to gain the skills to progress while helping plug a shortage of traditionally-trained chefs entering the business.

Called ‘The Aspire Chef Development Programme’, it sees them learning the essential foundation skills in professional cookery that, according to the Nottinghamshire-based company, are becoming increasingly rare throughout the industry.

The programme, which runs until September 2016, consists of a series of intensive three-day workshops designed to put the trainees through their paces.

As well as brushing up on the basics of food hygiene and preparation, they will master time-honoured cooking techniques such as boiling, roasting, shallow-frying and slow-cooking, along with the art of presentation.

It comes after the college – which has a long-standing partnership with Center Parcs – devised a bespoke programme to upskill the company’s most promising catering staff, in roles ranging from junior and commis chef to chef de parties.

Sessions are delivered by chef tutors in the college’s professional training kitchens at its Derby Road campus in Mansfield and involve challenges inspired by hit BBC television programme MasterChef.

Tracy Walker, group training and development manager for Center Parcs, said: “Traditional cookery skills are becoming a rarity in the industry and, like many leisure businesses, we’ve found it difficult to recruit these types of chef – they’re a dying breed.

“The popularity in fine-dining has raised the bar in culinary standards but unless you’ve gone through the ‘old-style’ cookery training, you won’t necessarily master some of the tried and tested techniques.

“To address this we decided to train-up our existing talent pool and teach them the skills they’ll need, both in our restaurants and for their future careers.

“It’s about developing that passion for food, sound knowledge of cooking and injecting even more skills into our restaurants.”

This is the first time in its 28-year history that Center Parcs has trained its chefs off-site. As the company’s sole provider of work-based training in catering, food and beverage service, hospitality supervision, housekeeping and customer service, the college usually delivers it within each of its holiday villages – namely Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire; Elveden Forest in Suffolk; Longleat Forest in Wiltshire; Whinfell Forest in Cumbria and Woburn Forest in Bedfordshire.

But the chance for staff to learn in the college’s industry-standards kitchens away from the ‘day job’ convinced Mrs Walker it was the right approach.

She said: “This gets them out of the village operation so they can focus on their learning. The chefs are paid while attending the course, and we cover their travel, accommodation and equipment costs too, so for us it’s a big investment. But the pay-off at the end will be a more highly-skilled workforce and people who will inspire others.”

Marcus Topley, the college’s employer engagement lead for catering and hospitality, said: “I’m delighted we’re able to build on our long-standing relationship with Center Parcs by training its next generation of chefs, right here at the college.

“Our professional cookery expertise and training facilities means we can enhance their existing skills and knowledge, which they will then take back into their workplace while also motivating them to take the next step in their careers.”

Dean Reddington, 25, from Mansfield, who works as a commis chef at Huck’s American Bar and Grill at the Sherwood Forest holiday village, in New Ollerton, said: “I’ve only been with the company a few months, so to be given this opportunity is just amazing. I’m really impressed by the standard of the facilities at West Notts and the tutors are very knowledgeable.

“Training at the college rather than in the workplace makes things more relaxed, and all the chefs learn from each other too.”

Emily Brennand, 23, from Westbury, Warminster, who works as a commis chef at Vitalé Café Bar at the nearby Longleat Forest holiday village, said: “The course is very informative and I’m learning a lot. It’s good to train in a different environment and gain a new perspective on things.

“I feel really lucky to be able to do this and hopefully it’s going to make me an even better chef.”