Cooking up a passion for fresh produce

Westking LPS student programme with chef Nigel Boschetti

Students from London’s Westminster Kingsway College with the Grosvenor House hotel's executive chef Nigel Boschetti

Westking LPS student programme winning canapé
The winning canapé

With a queue of fresh-faced, spirited newcomers lining up to join the foodservice industry, there is a need for the fresh produce industry to constantly talk to the next generation. But, how well do catering students know the industry?

As part of the inaugural London Produce Show and Conference (LPS) last year, catering students from London’s Westminster Kingsway College (Westking) were introduced to the world of fruit and vegetables through a series of activities that opened their eyes to the trade’s many possibilities and opportunities.

The 10 students, aged 16-18, were enticed with a taste of things to come via a show-and-tell style talk at the college in early 2014, where all sorts of produce was presented, from mooli to multi-coloured chard, edible violas and baby white carrots. Work experience at The Grosvenor House hotel in Mayfair was also included.

As an extracurricular activity to a full college schedule at Westking, which sees students study in classes and work in the various restaurant facilities, the LPS course was not for the faint hearted. But students left recognising that there is more to fruit and veg than meets the eye and discovered just how many career opportunities the fresh produce industry has to offer.

Kicking off with an early morning trip to the heart of fruit and veg catering supply at New Covent Garden Market, the students experienced the buyers’ walk and all the new products the market had to offer, as well as speaking with the wholesalers about how the market operates.

Many of the students hadn’t thought about the supply process that lies behind the massive variety and amount of fresh produce getting to most of London’s restaurants.

Awe-inspiring offer

Although the students had learnt about wholesale markets in lectures, many were surprised by the scale of delivery and organisation involved in the real thing.

Student Nicholas Constantine, who waived the third year of his diploma to take a job at a well-established brasserie, L'Escargot in Soho, says he was “in awe” of the market - he had briefly visited once before. “There were fruits and vegetables I had never heard of or seen before,” explains Constantine. “Before I had even started asking any questions, my mind was blown by the vast range of ingredients available.”

Constantine was surprised by the co-ordination among the suppliers acquiring all the ingredients from each other; describing it as “fascinating”, and although he hasn’t been back since, he uses the market on a daily basis.

“I simply haven't had time, although I call the suppliers there every day for my orders at work, so I still feel the effects of the operation I saw,” he says. “Now, I see it as a well-organised process. I was aware such an industry existed, but to see it in action with such efficiency and precision was an amazing sight.”

Taking inspiration from what was available on the market, the students each devised a fresh produce-based canapé. The winner’s canapé – chosen by the Grosvenor House hotel’s executive chef, Nigel Boschetti – was made and handed out by the students themselves on the opening night of LPS.

The winning canapé – Catherine Warwick’s Mediterranean vegetable couscous in Parmesan filo with pesto tuile – was also professionally styled and photographed to feature on one of the recipe cards handed out at the show.

After the winning canapé was announced, the chef gave the students a personal tour of the hotel’s kitchen and function rooms, as well as a talk on his career followed by a Q&A session.

The students’ work experience at the Grosvenor included working in the kitchens alongside Boschetti to produce 1,500 of the winning canapés, before serving delegates at the cocktail reception. The students also assisted the chef demonstration kitchen on the main show day of LPS, and toured the exhibition floor with fresh produce mentors.

Shaping students’ decisions

Student Isabella Glover, who is specialising in restaurant supervision in the final year of her diploma, would now like to become a sommelier because of her experience at LPS.

“Work experience at the Grosvenor House made me consider the idea of being front of house and getting involved with people and industries, rather than just being in the kitchen,” she explains, adding that she decided to study at Westking after developing a passion for baking.

Constantine, who first considered being a chef following a suggestion from his boss at a fishmonger Saturday job, says the Grosvenor House also helped reinforce his aims. “I learnt how it’s possible to supply food for hundreds of people with only a handful of chefs,” he says. “It will help me because should I have to serve food for functions of however many people, I have seen how it can be done with just few people and how it needs to be organised for it to work effectively.”

Another student, Lucy Smith, feels similarly about the experience. After enjoying studying a GCSE in Hospitality and Catering and reaping success in several cookery competitions, Smith was offered work experience by one of the competition’s hotel chef judges, who recommended Westking.

Smith loved working at the Grosvenor, as well as being introduced to people in the industry. Now in her second year of the diploma she will specialise in patisserie next year.

“The Grosvenor made me want to work in a hotel later on,” says Smith, who sees hotel management in her future. “The best part of working at the Grosvenor was seeing how a big hotel operates with those massive kitchens and how banqueting fits into place.”

“LPS was the first time I'd worked in a professional kitchen outside college, so it was very exciting,” adds Glover, who is now working as a part-time commis chef and banqueting waiter at Piccadilly’s BAFTA, alongside her studies. “The hotel was very impressive. I'd never been inside a London hotel before, so it was quite awe-inspiring.”

From development chefs to recipe writers and food consultants to product developers, the list of jobs available within the fresh produce industry goes on and the students soon realised that a good catering graduate is worth his or her weight in gold.

“I met chefs and suppliers from all walks of life and was able to sample all sorts of things from unusual wines to top-quality vegetables,” Constantine says. “It opened my eyes to how little knowledge I had of real fresh produce, allowing me to experience new flavours and textures I never had come across before.”

Westking’s Professional Chef Diploma

The Professional Chef Diploma at Westking isn’t just about the kitchen. It’s a course that encompasses all elements of the restaurant, leading to three possible pathways. In the third year, students can specialise in either cuisine, patisserie and confectionery or restaurant management, which includes externships in some of London’s top culinary restaurants and hotels.

The diploma is supported and endorsed by the Craft Guild of Chefs, the British Culinary Federation and the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts, and includes the topics garde manger, butchery and fishmongery, restaurant service in Westking’s public restaurant,The Vincent Rooms, and gastronomy and product development, to name a few.

Watch the chef demonstration, assisted by Westking’s students, at the London Produce Show 2014

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