Tell us about your new project
Me and my sous chef are working with Year 10s to run a pop-up restaurant this Friday (7 June) at North Kesteven School in Lincolnshire, where I used to go. We’re taking all the kids out of lessons for the day. They are going to do all the prep and run the restaurant and front-of-house, it will be as close to reality as we can simulate it. The costs are covered by selling tickets at £12.50 a head and we've had some great support from our suppliers.
Where did the idea come from?
There has been a lot in the press about chef shortages. Some good work has been done in colleges, but the problem is at grass root level. There is not enough education in secondary schools to get kids excited about catering and hospitality. I wasn’t academically brilliant at school, in fact the restaurant industry taught me everything I know. To run a business you need to be good at maths, and cooking is a science. If there are other kids out there who are made to feel stupid because they can’t understand the curriculum that’s been set by someone in an office, then we need to think about how else we can teach them.
What will the students be serving?
It is a three-course menu, starters will be Cornish mackerel with an Asian coleslaw salad and a lime mayonnaise; and a pea and ham hock soup. Main course is a roast chicken dinner; or handmade tagliatelle with tomato and goat’s cheese salsa; and dessert is an elderflower drizzle cake with strawberries.
The idea is that kids will learn to fillet a mackerel, break down a chicken, and make proper sponge cake. A lot of chefs now go straight in to kitchens where they learn how to dehydrate something and use a vac pack machine, but miss out on the basic skills.
Why do you think there is a struggle to get young people interested in hospitality?
In France if you say you want to be a waiter you get taken to vineyards, it’s looked at as a profession, whereas in this country I’m sorry to say but catering is seen as a bit of a stop-gap job. Cooking is glamorised but it’s a real double-edged sword. Chefs see the Tom Kerridge’s and Michel Roux Jr’s on the telly and get disappointed when they come in to kitchens and get stuck in a corner peeling potatoes. It's tough to begin with but David Beckham didn’t start off taking brilliant free kicks. It takes training and hard work.
What can schools do to help the industry?
Students are not learning enough about farms and where the produce comes from. There is so much about running a restaurant that you could cram in to a two-year GCSE course. There’s a bigger argument to be had about the way the education system works.
What’s your long-term goal for the project?
We’ve got a couple of dates pencilled in with other schools across Lincoln, and we’re hoping to eventually branch out across the country. If we can get other chefs and schools involved then maybe one day we could take this in front of an education minister and ask for there to be more of a presence for catering and hospitality at GCSE level.
The industry has brought this situation on itself, but it’s up to us to change things. I’ve travelled all over the world and spent two weeks cooking for Richard Branson on Necker Island. When you tell that to young people you see their eyes light up. If we can get one person interested in catering through our school pop-up then we’ve done a good job.