Inner-city teens' inspired cooking wins them stint in Raymond Blanc's kitchen, report Sue Whitehead and Stephen Lucas
After watching Gordon Ramsay's celebrity chef programme, three teenagers from Manchester's Moss Side could have been forgiven for expecting the work placement from hell when they were sent to another top chef's kitchen.
But Raymond Blanc's kitchen proved far friendlier than Ramsay's stormy TV equivalent, said 15-year-old Tyrrell Henry.
Tyrrell was eager to see whether he could stand the heat in a top kitchen after his class won the city's Food and Drink competition prize of working in Mr Blanc's Manchester restaurant - beating entrants from private and grammar schools.
He said the atmosphere became tense on occasions as Le Petit Blanc's head chef, Simon Stanley, refused to send out any dishes that did not meet his high standards.
"I could see some of the undercooks becoming very frustrated as they served up food that they thought was good enough but the head chef was sending it back telling them to do it again.
"There was some swearing but it wasn't anything like what you see on the telly," he said.
Tyrrell said he learned how to use a knife properly, cook a bread and butter pudding and dress plates. But the biggest lesson was how much hard work it is being in a top kitchen.
"I got very tired. You were standing on your feet all day," he said.
The prize was particularly notable because until last September the school, Manchester academy, formerly Ducie high, did not have a food and textiles department. At the time of the competition the GCSE students had been cooking for just five weeks.
Mr Blanc, who has trained 13 Michelin-starred chefs and was recently awarded the title of AA Chef of the Year, said: "I was astounded by the quality of cooking I witnessed in the competition. I was most impressed with Manchester academy's team, as they really made an effort to use as much home-grown and local produce as possible."
He said he hoped the placement would counter the negative images of catering created by recent television programmes such as Hell's Kitchen.
"These programmes set us back about 20 years, he said. "By talking to these kids and involving them I hope we've shown that this industry is exciting and offers all sorts of opportunities.
"There is stress but you have to learn to cope with it through organisation and team-work. I hope they perceived a wonderful environment, conducive to creativity."
Sylvie Abasi and Sally Hemedimzee also joined the Le Petit Blanc staff.
Sylvie learned how to chop vegetables like a professional and was introduced to many new ingredients.
"Everyone here works really hard but they are also really friendly," she said.
"I want to become a lawyer when I leave school but I really enjoy cooking and so it will be a great hobby for me."
Sally said she wants to go on to become a chef and eventually open her own restaurant.
Sarah Walsh, head of food and textiles at Manchester academy, said:
"Tyrrell was on the verge of exclusion last summer but now he has found something to give him the motivation to do well. He is going from strength to strength now."
And the students can expect a treat. They have been invited back to the brasserie to have a meal as guests of Mr Blanc.