Hospitality served with hint of class

12th November 2004 at 00:00
A culinary excellence course is helping pupils to get ahead in the top end of the industry, reports Elizabeth Buie

Pan-fried rib of beef, confit of lamb with pomme cocotte, wild rocket salad, poached pears with chopped nuts and caramel sauce. These dishes - enough to make your mouth water - are hardly standard fare in home economics classes but they are all part of the repertoire of a group of pupils at Shawlands Academy in Glasgow.

Next week, 10 S5 and S6 pupils at the school will join one of the city's top chefs, Brian Maule, at his city centre restaurant, the Chardon d'Or, to prepare a three-course lunch for selected guests. It will be the culmination of the culinary excellence programme, which combines work experience in the hospitality industry at its highest level with classroom experience.

Some of the other nine Glasgow secondary schools involved in the project have been linked with either Strathclyde University's hotel school or some of the top hotels in the city.

All the pupils spend part of the 12-week programme visiting either the fishmarket or fruit and vegetable market at the crack of dawn, follow the meat production chain and learn how to taste wine and whisky. They also learn front-of-house management at some of the most sophisticated establishments in the city.

For some pupils, the project also means a week's travel to Italy, France or Spain to work with top chefs or hotel management staff.

Some of the schools offer foreign language classes alongside the hospitality course to give the pupils a better appreciation of the country's culture and help to enhance their employability.

With a skills shortage in the hospitality industry in general, and especially a shortage of quality staff in Glasgow, the project offers relevant vocational education par excellence.

Cooking has become fashionable among young people, thanks to the likes of youth icons such as Jamie Oliver and television shows such as Ready, Steady, Cook, and they are beginning to see restaurant work as an aspiration rather than fill-in work until something better comes along.

When Karen Bryce, principal teacher of home economics at Shawlands Academy, arrived at the school seven years ago, there were only two Standard gtrade classes studying home economics and barely a boy among the pupils. Now there are eight S3 and S4 classes studying hospitality and half of the students are boys. More pupils are going on to study health and food technology at Higher level too, and the school's exam results in these subjects are significantly above average.

Mrs Bryce is the driving force behind the culinary excellence programme in her school, a venture which for the past three years has seen groups of 10-12 pupils from S5 and S6 work directly with Mr Maule, the Ayrshire-born chef who was running the kitchen of the Roux brothers' Michelin-starred Le Gavroche in central London at the age of 24.

Fifteen-year-olds Danny Ferry and Manpreet Deol - both S5 pupils at Shawlands Academy - are studying Intermediate 2 hospitality and Intermediate 1 Italian. The school's Italian assistant, Matteo Mezzanotte, is also taking part in the culinary excellence programme so that he can pass on the relevant culinary vocabulary.

In June, along with Mrs Bryce and the school's principal teacher in pastoral care, Ian Letford, the group will travel to Florence for a week, where the pupils will work in a top formal dining restaurant, one of the best pizzerias and an established enoteca (wine tasting bar) under the tutelage of a sommelier (wine waiter). They will also tour Florence's food markets, take Italian classes organised by the British Institute and have a day's tuition in a cookery school run in an 11th-century farmhouse. For some pupils it will be their first trip abroad.

Danny hopes to follow in the path of Jay Singh, a pupil who took part in the programme three years ago and is now a full-time chef in Mr Maule's restaurant.

"It's been a really great experience, just getting the opportunity to work with such a good chef and seeing how it's done," he says.

"Most of my friends are jealous that I've got the opportunity to go to Italy and work with Brian Maule."

For Manpreet, whose father is a chef, it is the hotel management side of the business that really interests her. On a visit to the eclectic, ultra-modern Langs hotel in Glasgow she discovered her dream job - room division manager - which involves designing the decor for each room in the hotel, so she hopes to go on to the Glasgow School of Art.

"Culinary excellence is really cool," she says. "It's one of the best subjects and it's the class I actually love coming to."

Mr Maule says: "What we get out of it is the pleasure of seeing the kids enjoy themselves, and giving them an opportunity to do something in the industry before they make a decision about their working life.

"We see their confidence increasing. They are in among adults rather than being treated like kids at school. They are getting an opportunity to find themselves in an environment they would not otherwise see."

Frances Gallagher, adviser in home economics for Glasgow City Council's education improvement services, is the inspiration behind the scheme. As each year goes by, she adds new elements. It began with one school and a chef, Ferrier Richardson, formerly based in Glasgow. Now, 10 schools take part, and Mrs Gallagher is planning a work experience link with Louisville, Kentucky, where Govan High pupils will receive culinary and customer service training.

Since its inception, 75 per cent of the pupils involved in the culinary excellence programme have gone on to work in the hospitality industry. Even the 25 per cent who have chosen different routes have learnt many life skills and found a sense of purpose.

Mrs Gallagher says: "It links into another project we run called Learning with Living and Earning. It helps them to understand the purpose of education; it makes it a meaningful experience for them."

She also sees an impact on attendance, behaviour, and motivation of all those who take part.

Ultimately, she would like the council to run its own training hotel for the programme.

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