Heston Blumenthal: 'The system is killing creativity'

Michelin-star chef Heston Blumenthal says the government is 'short-sighted' and 'narrow-minded' when it comes to training for the hospitality industry

Kate Parker

Heston Blumenthal has said the current education system is killing creativity and the focus on linear progression has to change

The education system is "gradually killing creativity" and the government is short-sighted when it comes to the catering and hospitality industry, according to one of the country's most famous chefs.

Heston Blumenthal told Tes that the linear nature of the education system and the obsession with maths and English needed to change.

“There are so many teachers working their socks off against a system that is gradually killing creativity,” he said.

"The system was so powerful…in the Victorian British Empire, and it based everything on linear systems and measurements. We said if you didn’t do this, if you didn’t make money…It was all just incredibly powerful and successful at what it did. But now it’s time to put the 'being' back into human [being].”

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The award-winning Michelin-star chef added the current education system did not value cooking and eating.

“Colleges do a lot of good work. The government does not view – this is the thing for me that is so short-sighted, narrow-minded and lacks logic – cooking and eating as really that important.

“Well, hang on a second, you don’t need maths to live but you do need to eat to live. There’s no logic to it.”

A 'Hestonised' curriculum

Blumenthal was speaking at Activate Learning’s City of Oxford College. The college group and Blumenthal’s Fat Duck Group have formed a partnership to update the hospitality and catering curriculum across three colleges – City of Oxford College, Reading College and Banbury and Bicester College.

The updated content aims to ensure that learners are fully equipped to meet the demands of modern kitchens, and will offer a more experimental and scientific-based approach. The curriculum has been, as many staff members put it, "Hestonised".

Blumenthal said: “This approach to learning through cooking and through eating is putting the 'being' back into human [being]. We become scared of trying, scared of being rejected, scared of not belonging in a group; groups are so powerful.

“With Activate Learning, the whole approach totally respects the importance of some level of discipline and linearity in an education system that allows people to be human. Have a go, connect, become more aware, be mindful.”

Where are the chefs?

Activate Learning’s chief executive Sally Dicketts said the government had an "obsession with the academic".

“We’ve got employers who are coming to us in their absolute droves going, 'We need more chefs – where are they? Why aren’t you training them?'” she told Tes. “Well, if schools don’t do as Heston says – anything to do with domestic science, or anything to do with food – [students] don’t understand [the subject and skills].

“I will bet whatever money I’ve got that within five years, someone will smell the coffee in government and go, 'Oh my god, we’ve got a real shortage' when they go into London and can’t go to a decent restaurant because there are no chefs, or it’s only open two days a week.

“They will then cry and say, 'We need to train somebody', and they will put domestic science or food tech or whatever back in the curriculum.”

A week-long apprentice 

Blumenthal's own personal experience of the FE and skills system was rather short-lived.

“I wrote to something like 20 to 25 top restaurants in the Good Food Guide and I said, 'I want to be chef, can I come and work for a week?' and only one restaurant responded to me, that was it. It was Raymond Blanc at the Le Manoir [aux Quat’Saisons, a hotel-restaurant in Oxfordshire]. 

“After a week there [as an apprentice], I decided, 'Oh no, maybe I want to go and earn some money first'. I wanted to own a restaurant and then I realised as I started learning that I wasn’t really motivated by money. So I did a week and got offered a job and turned it down.”

“I believe that this course [at Activate] can put people in much better stead than myself was at 18.”

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a schools and colleges content producer.

Find me on Twitter @KateParkerTes

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