In keeping with the strong food ethics upheld at the restaurant, the River Cottage Professional Cookery School will place an extra emphasis on teaching chefs and students about current issues affecting the sector such as traceability, sourcing and seasonality.
“There has been a renaissance in British restaurant cookery in recent years,” said Fearnley-Whittingstall. “Not just in terms of the style of cooking and techniques now being employed, but also - more crucially in my view - in the approach of chefs to sourcing their food, embracing good provenance, and choosing their recipes.
Change and innovation
“Far more of them are now celebrating local ingredients and traditional dishes and running their businesses in a more sustainable way. With the River Cottage Professional Cookery School, we aim to strike while the iron is hot, helping to bring even more change and innovation in this area.
“We’ll be guiding our trainees in all the issues at which River Cottage excels - seasonality, ethical and local sourcing, regional ingredients and traditional, hands-on techniques.”
The programmes start at £150 per person with a range of offers available for group bookings. Tutors will take students on the journey from farm, field and sea through to the kitchen and onto the plate. The River cottage is expecting mass interest in the new school from industry leaders, HR directors, learning and development managers and local business owners such as publicans and restaurateurs.
Courses available include:
- The Professional Cookery Level 2 Apprenticeship - A 12-month cookery qualification aimed at those currently employed as a professional cook or chef, at commis- or chef de partie- level. Upon application each student will be assigned a dedicated tutor. Structured around monthly workshops, students will be mentored within their current workplace by their head chef with regular monthly visits from their RC tutor. This is an on-going assessment resulting in certification.
- Accredited one-day workshops – These enable qualified or nonqualified cooks to master aspects of culinary expertise which they wish to improve on or learn more about. With over 12 different subject areas, ranging from bread to game cookery, students will leave with a nationally recognised City & Guild qualification. Day courses start from £180.00.
- The Young Chefs’ Apprenticeship Scheme – A 12-month program for 16-19 year olds which includes placing each student in employment, professional tutoring at workshops and in-business mentoring and assessment. This scheme starts in September 2013 and application are currently being accepted. This programme is free for successfully selected learners.
Explaining the reasoning behind focusing on professional chefs as well as younger people, the River Cottage’s head of education Chris Griffin told BigHospitality: “There are a lot of foodservice businesses out there where the chefs have almost just fallen into their jobs without necessarily having the qualifications they need to support what they’re doing on a day-to-day basis.
"These new programmes will of course cover the basics such as food preparation, cooking and finishing skills, but we also have a real focus on the sourcing of local ingredients, the importance of seasonality and the importance of the ingredients we use being sustainable.
“We’re hoping that those organisations that don’t have the sort of training infrastructure or expertise to run these programmes will look at what we’re doing and realise it would be a good partnership for them – it will offer them tangible benefits on the front line and improve the quality of food that they’re delivering to customers whilst having a better understanding of product procurement.”
Having set up The River Cottage in Axminster over seven years ago, Fearnley-Whitingstall believes that this and other professional cookery schools have the potential to drive the restaurant industry forward.
He concluded: “This is a new step for us that I’m very excited about - after all, if we can inspire and inform the up-and-coming chefs of the UK and beyond, they in-turn can delight thousands, maybe even millions of diners all over the world.”
The Level 2 Apprenticeship and one-day workshops will begin in April 2013, and the Young Chefs’ Apprenticeship Scheme will launch in September. Next year, the River Cottage will introduce the Level 3 Apprenticeship along with a new qualification in sustainability and food procurement.
For more information on the River Cottage Professional Cookery School, visit www.rivercottage.net/chefs-school.
The Blue Elephant...
Meanwhile, Thai restaurant the Blue Elephant situated in London's Imperial Wharf is set to open its own cookery school this spring. The launch will mark Blue Elephant’s first cookery school outside Thailand, following in the footsteps of successful venues in Bangkok and Phuket.
Located on the first floor at Imperial Wharf, the standalone facility will offer students a unique and fascinating introduction to the gastronomic culture of Blue Elephant's homeland.