Cooked up by Conran empire

Lucy Ward

A school for chefs is being opened by a partnership including restaurateur Terence Conran to alleviate a "chronic" skills shortage in the catering industry.

The Butlers Wharf Chef School, in a former spice warehouse beside London's Tower Bridge, will offer training both for experienced chefs and for local young people and adults entering the industry.

Due to open next month, the school will run a range of courses leading to qualifications including national vocational qualifications and its own certificates and diplomas.

The scheme's backers, adamant that Butlers Wharf is not simply a convenient means of staffing Conran's growing list of restaurants, insist there is no implied criticism of the training already being supplied by further education colleges nationwide.

Director John Roberts, formerly in the further education sector himself at Rotherham College, sees the school complementing colleges' work in the effort to combat "a chronic shortage of chefs and front-of-house personnel which has left industry desperate for skilled staff."

Nevertheless the school's launch, likely to attract the hype invariably generated by the Conran name, will inevitably raise questions over the training being offered elsewhere.

Managers of college catering departments strongly defend their record in turning out students fit to work in the industry, and some privately suggest any implied "chefs' schools war" is simply a useful marketing aid for Butlers Wharf.

But some also admit to grave doubts over the NVQ catering qualifications, which they fear do not drill students sufficiently rigorously in the basics of their trade.

The new Chef School, complete with 42-seat public restaurant and aiming to provide training for more than 200 people in its first year, is promoting its close links with industry and its ability to match courses to real requirements in the field. Its programmes include NVQs customised to its own design, together with specially devised qualifications such as the advanced level chef's course, leading to a guaranteed interview with a prominent restaurant group.

"This school is different in that the programmes have been developed in conjunction with industry," says Mr Roberts.

Funding partners in the scheme include the London Docklands Development Corporation, Southwark Council and the Hotel and Catering Training Company - the industry lead body.

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