With 800,000 hospitality jobs set to be created by 2020 and not enough talent to fill those posts, Food Academy UK – a business that uses cooking and food to transform and brighten the lives of people in East London – has launched an ambitious new project aimed at getting the unemployed into hospitality careers
Food Academy UK is looking for fresh produce partners, particularly restaurants and supermarkets, to help the organisation bring into fruition its brand-new culinary training scheme called ‘Get Into a Career in Hospitality’, as well as support its on-going cooking and public health workshops, classes and events for schools, colleges, housing associations, local councils and corporate businesses.
“We use food and cooking to brighten lives and build stronger communities by inspiring people to love better food, providing key cooking skills and the chance to learn about exciting careers and businesses in food,” Food Academy UK director Carlos Montes tells Produce Business UK.
“We deliver fun and top quality cooking classes, as well as cooking events for corporates, colleges and schools. Our team-building workshops are second-to-none and we provide consultancies on food education, public health and setting up and running food businesses. We link all our activities to promote a general understanding of food.”
Food Academy UK was founded in 2011 to help people in East London by using food and cooking as a new and powerful medium for positive change. During the initial three to four years, the organisation also created, funded and successfully ran the first Jamie Oliver Ministry of Food in London – Ministry of Food Stratford.
“The idea was to show people that it’s not that difficult and it’s actually fun to cook for yourself and to cook from scratch rather than buying pre-made meals or junk food,” Montes says. “That’s the concept behind everything that we do. Food Academy has moved on since then but we follow those same principles.”
The group’s latest project – Get Into a Career in Hospitality – will train a group of 10 unemployed east Londoners with the aim of helping them to secure work in the food industry. Taking place in June, the scheme is being co-organised with the Oriental Culinary Institute/the School of Wok and the support of The Restaurant SW4 at Lambeth College and 1000 Cookbooks.
The trainees will develop an appreciation for and an understanding of food, as well as professional cooking skills under the guidance of four or five notable chefs, including London Produce Show and Conference ambassador Jeremy Pang from the School of Wok and Sandeep Channa, who is also a director at Food Academy UK.
The programme consists of a three-week, full-time culinary training course that will provide a basis for a career in a professional kitchen; followed by a high-quality two-week work placement in the food industry and employment interviews. The trainees will also participate in the 2015 Taste of London show at the end of June.
“It’s very innovative and ambitious because it’s a relatively short intervention,” says Montes. “But it’s of a very high quality and after five intense weeks we hope to quickly move people from unemployment to employment.”
Importantly, Montes says the trainees will achieve a Confederation of Tourism and Hospitality (CTH) qualification, which is very trade based. “It’s designed by the industry itself to make it practical,” he comments. “Often courses can be long – two to five years – so we want to offer something quick yet focused that provides the candidates with a recognised qualification.”
With the hospitality industry tipped to create 800,000 jobs by 2020, and unemployment high among young people, Montes says the food industry should get behind Get Into a Career in Hospitality.
“The hospitality industry is expanding massively in London as tourism and service has grown,” he points out. “But there are gaps in the industry. People estimate that a lot of chefs will be needed that are currently not being trained, so there are opportunities for people to get into employment.”
Montes says Food Academy UK is looking for partners from anywhere in hospitality and the food industry at large. “Catering is the obvious field, such as restaurants, but supermarkets or any company working in an area related to food are very welcome to participate,” he says. “Companies can help by offering work placements in the London area or job interviews for our trainees or by providing funding to make this programme available to more people.”
What’s in it for the produce trade?
By supporting the scheme, Montes claims the fruit and vegetable industry will ultimately be creating the fresh produce consumers and champions of the future. “Education is something we do well,” he says. “From the start of the course, we begin with how to peel veg like potatoes, how to cut onions and general knife skills. Everything we do comes down to encouraging people to buy, use and consume fresh ingredients.
“We also have a high profile. Recently, we’ve participated at Grand Designs Live and worked with Levi Roots. We’re innovative, social and there’s a very strong PR element to our work. Working with us is an opportunity for any produce company and organisation to push healthy eating and fresh fruit and vegetable consumption.”
More broadly, Food Academy UK is eager to establish corporate partnerships throughout the fresh fruit and vegetable industry to help people, especially children, to develop the right relationship with food.
“We promote how good it is to use fresh ingredients,” Montes explains. “This is especially important in areas like east London where people obviously do buy produce but they’ve lost the understanding about good food. They’ve forgotten the link between the food you eat and the food you cook.”
The main ways the industry can get involved are by providing fresh produce for Food Academy UK’s school workshops, offering financial support such as sponsorship of a workshop that could be tailored to a specific product or category, or by organising a team-building event around food and cooking in central London – either at the School of Wok or in a specific area.
“We’d love some sponsorship for the workshops we do with children,” Montes reveals. “Instead of buying fizzy drinks we show kids how you can make your own drinks and smoothies with produce. We’re very strong on advising our participants on how to use fruits and vegetables in the recipes we follow.
“We target Year 4 and 5 – so very young kids – and when they enter a kitchen for the first time they get incredibly excited,” Montes continues. “They are wowed by it. If we continue in that vein the fresh produce industry could effectively create a market for itself.
“If there’s a will, there’s definitely a way to support us,” he comments. “We’d love to work with produce partners. We’re very flexible and open to ideas. On one occasion we worked with Natural England and the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs to bring English Longhorn cows and two calves to east London to educate people about where their milk and meat comes from!”
With east London having one of the highest levels of diabetes in the country, Food Academy UK is currently running a pilot programme with hospitals to prove to people with diabetes that they can better cope with the disease by changing their eating habits.
“People eat very poorly [in east London] and unfortunately not many people are focused on public health here at the moment. So we’re coming at the problem via a practical approach – we actually show people that cooking and eating fruits and vegetables is easy, tasty and good for you.”
“We’re trying to promote good stories in general too. Although it’s a poor area, the schools are very good and incredibly aspirational – they’re working really hard to send kids to university. We want to combine that enthusiasm with life skills and eating well.”
Contact Carlos Montes to find out how to get involved with Food Academy UK.
Watch a recent video of Food Academy UK in action at Grand Designs Live.