Finding and fostering entrepreneurial talent is the aim of a Dorset company whose Yes Chef! competition and Company Challenge days encourage students to shine. Sarah Scally reports
Arriving in the kitchen of the Cumberland Hotel, Bournemouth, you can literally feel that the heat is on. Emma, a student with an interest in cooking, is preparing medallion of prime Scotch beef fillet under the watchful eye of head chef Richard Howard. She burnt her finger earlier in the day, but still remains adamant that she wants to go on to college to do catering when she finishes school.
At other hotels across Bournemouth students Carlos and Sophie are also preparing the same dishes. This might seem a bit of a coincidence until you realise that the three students are taking part in the Yes Chef! competition organised by Young Hotels and Dorset Enterprise and Skills (DES), a not-for-profit company committed to helping young people develop business and entrepreneurial skills.
DES recently became concerned about the lack of young people going into catering and approached Young Hotels to see what could be done. What they came up with was a trial scheme to get students into hotel kitchens, working alongside qualified chefs to fire their enthusiasm for cooking and catering as a career.
Originally, eight students from three Bournemouth schools, Avonbourne, Ferndown Upper and the Bishop of Winchester, took part in two days' work experience. They worked in the kitchens of the Cumberland, the Tralee and the Trouville hotels, all of which are owned by the Young Hotel group.
Under the tuition of the head chefs, they learned the basics of food preparation, made several dishes and discovered how a busy hotel kitchen works.
The eight students prepared dishes such as chicken and spinach roulade with red pepper coulis and paupiette of salmon with a white wine sauce, mimicking the pressure of the real job, when it was then served to two judges.
The judges passed their comments and had to choose three students to go through to the final cook-off competition. Carlos Neuenschwander, Emma Gibson and Sophie Collier-Nielsen were the three chosen and they are now spending a morning working on a different dish for the final presentation to two distinguished judges.
Will Summerell, the group executive head chef for Young Hotels and Dave Boland, the senior chef lecturer at Bournemouth and Poole Catering College, are invited along. The students know they need to impress them if they are keen on forging a career within the hospitality industry.
Dave explains why he was more than happy to become involved in this project: "It's important to get young people interested in food and cooking, and away from convenience foods. They've learned about taste and seasoning and I advise them to keep it simple, with nothing too elaborate."
That said, after a short period of experience in the kitchen the students are now producing medallion of prime Scotch beef fillet with dauphinoise potato, red onion marmalade, complemented by a rich red wine sauce, which looks and smells absolutely delicious.
Alan Stevens, group operations manager of the Young Hotel group, explains that the whole competition has been a fantastic success and that he is thrilled the DES has decided to extend the scheme. "The chefs really enjoyed it and even the students who didn't make it through to the final cook-off took it in their stride, coming back to act as commis chefs for some of the finalists," he says.
What is even more inspiring is that he was so impressed by the students'
attitude that he would now consider giving any of the original eight work in a Young Hotel. Dave Boland agrees that the standard of food has been excellent and urged those who did not win to continue, as they had all shown real promise.
After a lunch served to family and teachers of the finalists, together with local business people, the winner is announced as Emma Gibson from Avonbourne School. Emma looks pleased and a little shocked as she steps up to receive a glass trophy and chef's whites, sponsored by Stalbridge Linen services. By the time she next steps into a kitchen she will have her name embroidered on the whites and will look like a true professional - proving that she can stand the heat and she won't be getting out of the kitchen for quite a long time yet.
* Dorset Enterprise and Skills Tel: 01202 575500 www.desltd.org
* Young Hotels Tel:01202 652424 www.younghotels.com