Iqbal Wahhab, founder and owner of London restaurant Roast, has joined Gordon Ramsay in urging prisons to do more to arm offenders with skills and qualifications to work in the hospitality industry at the end of their sentences.
Speaking to BigHospitality a month after giving a permanent chef job at Roast to Andrew, a former in-mate at Brixton Prison and one of the offenders trained by Ramsay in his TV series Gordon Behind Bars, Wahhab said prisons, with large catering facilities had potential to be training facilities for the industry.
He said: “The Clink Charity has been doing great work in this area and hotels and restaurants are already on the page with this – there are many who have been involved with The Clink.
“But now I think the real effort needs to come from the prison service. It should be promoting catering not just as an activity that passes the time for prisoners, but that can be a key to their future.
“They could be giving offenders training and qualifications in this area, so that when they leave they can go into a job rather than go back to crime.”
In Ramsay’s latest series, which aired on Channel 4, the chef worked with offenders at Brixton Prison with the aim of training them up to enter the workplace.
Wahhab, who bought the Indian street food restaurant Mooli’s earlier this year and has been involved in Switchback, a scheme which helps young ex-offenders into work, said he was highly impressed with one of the candidates when he was invited to go along to a pop-up restaurant there.
He said: “It wasn’t about being a do-gooder. When I was at Brixton prison, all the cooking was on display so we could watch it. I spotted Andrew and I thought ‘this guy has got real potential’.
“I chatted to him when he was there and got a call a month later from the prison to say that Andrew was being released and would I give him a work placement.”
Following the placement, Andrew was offered a permanent position at Roast, working as a commis for head chef Marcus Verbene and it is hoped will work his way up through the ranks.
“He won the job on his own merits. I gave him an opportunity, but he has proved himself a hard worker and I think he will work his way up,” Wahhab said.
Bad Boys' Bakery
As well as give one of his alumni a job, Wahhab has supported Ramsay’s initiative in more ways than one. Mooli’s in Soho is currently selling Bad Boys' Bakery lemon curd treacle tarts, the cakes created by in-mates trained by Ramsay and listed in Caffe Nero.
“They’re selling really well," said Wahab. "I'd like to do more with Mooli's too and going forward would like to have 50 per cent of its work force made up of apprentices or ex-offenders."
The hiring of Andrew and selling of Bad Boys' Bakery cakes is part of Iqbal’s wider commitment to working with disadvantaged young people.
The restaurateur, who opened Roast in 2006, sits on a number of advisory boards and committees and is currently working with Westminster City Council on a project that aims to generate 2,012 apprenticeships and work experience opportunities for young people.