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College’s restaurant trainees get fully-industrious

Posted: 18 January 2024

West Nottinghamshire College’s training kitchens and restaurant have been a hive of activity as students launched into the challenges of Industry Week.

From cooking-under-pressure with Army chefs using ration packs, to learning how to offer the best hospitality on board an aeroplane, hospitality and catering students welcomed various guests in the kitchens and bar at the Derby-road based restaurant, Refined.

The Army’s 167 catering support regiment set trainee chefs the task of creating a three-course menu using ration packs, which would typically be issued to troops ‘in the field’. Students learnt more about the range of catering roles within the Army whilst discovering the range of nutritional options which can be created from limited ingredients.

Maria Gunning, who is a member of Eastern Airways’ cabin crew, joined hospitality supervision students on-board the college’s ‘Vision Air’, part of an Airbus A320 ex-passenger airline, which is used to train mainly travel and tourism students in the skills needed to become cabin crew staff.

Maria, who has worked in the airline industry for over 25 years, spoke to students about how to professionally utilise their hospitality skills whilst on-board a flight. She performed the standard airline safety demo, together with how to cater for passengers on-board, attending to food and drinks requests.

Professional chefs Leigh Richards and Matt Gabbitas introduced student chefs to their talents and work within their areas of industry, setting them challenges to create a variety of meals. Leigh, who was a catering student at the college in 2011, now works as culinary development manager for The Ingredients Consortium, which is a specialist ingredients company for the food manufacturing industry.

Leigh gave the students an insight into the food industry and his role which focuses on developing ingredients for ready meals which are sold in many shops. He set them the challenge to come up with a concept for a ready meal, whether that was high protein, low fat or low cost. Students had to consider budgets, ingredients and the production process and the ease of production and transportation.

Meanwhile Matt Gabbitas from Pilgrim Food Masters joined students on a frozen food assessment mission. Matt, whose chef career spans over 17 years, now works as senior research and development chef for the food manufacturer, whose meals are stocked in many well-known shops.

Matt asked students to try different meals from budget range to superior range. Students gave feedback on the appearance, taste and texture of each meal and then guessed what price each meal was set at.

Chair of Ashfield District Council, Councillor Dale Grounds was on hand to judge hospitality supervision students’ cocktail and mocktail making competitions, which featured creatively concocted drinks infused with fruit, herbs and confectionary. Dale, who has experience as a barman, said: “The students showed some great creativity in this challenge. There were some really good drinks and flavours. The presentation was very impressive too in both the cocktails and mocktails. The winners of these competitions showed real promise and interest in the drinks-making industry and it has been a privilege to come along to judge.”

The Ready, Steady Cook-style competition saw students creating a range of meals. Working in pairs they were challenged to design and cook a two-course meal for two people that aligns with their culinary abilities, using limited ingredients.

Students could opt to cook two starters and two main courses or two main courses and two desserts, in a window of two and a half hours.

Judges offering their professional critique of the dishes were foundation studies and catering assessor Craig Stevens and former professional cookery student Oliver Cooper, who now works as a chef at the Blidworth-based Black Bull pub.

A couple of social outings wee organised for students which gave learners a tasty insight into their future careers. This included a visit to the Nottingham-based Panda Mami restaurant and the Black Bull at Blidworth.

At the Black Bull students met former college trainee chefs who are now running the kitchens. They provided learners with a three-course lunch combining pub food with a fine-dining twist.  

Head of animal care and hospitality and catering Helen Wilcockson said: “This team never fails to impress our students when it comes to organising industry week activities. Learners have experienced such a varied agenda from creating their own food and drink to tasting the talents of other professionals.

“Industry week has also broadened their horizons when it comes to seeing just how many job types are available across the sector such as a supermarket or retail ‘ready meal chef’, and this is so important when they’re starting to think about the paths they are looking to take in the next year or two.”

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