The new master chefs

04/01/2016 - 15:59
Paul Mannering, principal of the recently launched HIT Chef Academy, tells David Foad how the next generation of chefs will be getting the skills they need.

David Foad: Can you tell us a little about your own chef/catering background?

Paul Mannering: My passion for training and developing learners started early on in my career. After spending seven years working as a chef in London and a further seven years as a pastry chef for the John Lewis Partnership, learning from some of the finest in the industry, I wanted to share my experience with others and help support the next generation of chefs.

To do this, I completed a D32 to become an assessor in the work place, and moved into teaching and training roles. I worked freelance in product development and craft training for a while, before joining Hospitality Plus, where I helped to develop young learners, train staff and launch new menus.

In 2006, I joined HIT Training, when the company formed, and have been here for nine years. The idea for an academy has always been something which HIT’s board has aspired to, and in my role as principal of the Chef Academy, I will be driving the programme forward, opening new sites across the UK and continually developing the syllabus.

What are you looking for when recruiting chefs to join the academy?

The HIT Chef Academy will supplement our Professional Cookery Apprenticeship programme and is aimed at trainees working in the hospitality industry. To join the academy, young learners will be nominated by their head chefs and will participate in the syllabus alongside their full-time apprenticeship.

For young chefs to succeed within the industry, it is all about the attitude; in my experience, the best chefs are those with character, commitment and a real get-up-and-go attitude. Passion and interest are the two ingredients which make a great chef, everything else you can teach. Real passion for the food is something you either have or you don’t.

What can the academy offer them?

The academy will offer chefs a safe environment where they can grow and develop their skills, building their confidence and self-esteem. The syllabus is a combination of practical theory and experiential learning, which is designed to provide the learners with a core knowledge and grounding from which to build a successful career.

The programme is open to all apprentices, from those at the start of their career to more advanced chefs, so we have created the curriculum with different levels to match the apprentices’ experience.

What quality of chef do you hope to see graduating from the academy?

For me, it’s not so much about producing Michelin-starred chefs – it is about a chef graduating from the academy with a broad knowledge and strong understanding of aspects such as ingredients, kitchen management, nutrition and allergies, and wine tasting. We hope to see the chefs finishing the academy with a core set of skills and confidence that will see them go on to excel in their career, or take the next steps to achieving their dream job.

Who has had input into the syllabus make-up?

The syllabus has been put together by the HIT development team and the HIT chef trainers, with input from representatives across the industry. We have been working on the curriculum for several months and have conducted extensive research, gathering information from chefs, hoteliers, business owners and agencies such as People 1st to get a broad range of feedback and opinion based on what is currently happening in the industry.

How would you describe the facilities available?

The HIT Chef Academy will operate from regional centres across the UK. The first academy site, which we have up and running, is in the Orange Kitchen at Becketts Farm in the West Midlands. Here, the learners will benefit from an on-site butcher, a local baker and a green grocer in close proximity, representing local growers and offering the chefs the opportunity to gain real-life experience with suppliers.

We are currently working to set up a string of academies around the country, basing them at real-life kitchens where the chefs can gain hands-on experience in a realistic working environment.

How have suppliers in the industry pledged to help?

All the suppliers we have approached are those who actively support the education of new chefs and young people. The response from suppliers has been fantastic, and companies, such as Koppert Cress, have offered to run tours and visits for the learners, conduct demonstrations and talks, and provide educational material.

Where is the biggest demand for chefs in the catering industry today?

The current demand for chefs is industry-wide, and is something that most hospitality businesses will have been affected by. I would say there is a particular shortage of pastry chefs, as this is a specialist area that can be hard to find the right people for. The casual dining sector has also contributed to the skills gap as the industry grows and more outlets open up. As a result, it has been estimated that 300,000 new jobs will be created by 2020.

Why do we constantly hear of a skills shortage in the industry?

We are in a situation where the industry is growing faster than the rate in which new people are joining, and we have a backlog of positions that need to be filled, as well as new vacancies that are continually occurring.

Investment needs to be made in the training of chefs who are currently working in the industry to help them progress and fill vacancies at a higher level. The industry also needs to commit to providing training for young learners and offer more opportunities for them to enter the industry. This is what we are trying to achieve with the Chef Academy.

When will the first students graduate?

Our first Chef Academy students will graduate in February 2017. They will complete a full year on the course alongside their existing apprenticeship and full-time job. The chefs will attend the academy for a couple of days a month, and their HIT assessor will also visit them at their full-time job to monitor their progress. This format has been designed so that the academy will act as an add-on to the learners’ existing professional cookery qualifications, and support them on their career path.

What are the food and equipment trends that are changing the way chefs are trained today?

We hear more about sous-vide and molecular gastronomy, which have come into the limelight recently, and we see a lot of young chefs who want to learn all about these techniques. In a kitchen, there is definitely a time and a place for these trends, and we tell all our learners that it’s very important we master walking before we can run within the industry.

The growth of the casual dining sector has also put a spin on the industry in terms of consumers’ food expectations and the service provided; there is a demand for high-quality food with a fast turnaround. Equally, there are a lot more places that are embracing aspects such as sustainability and grow your own, and these can only be seen as positive trends and influences in the industry.

Why should anyone consider becoming a chef?

Without sounding too much like a cliché, a career as a chef is probably one of the most rewarding jobs there is. You go home at the end of the day feeling like you have worked hard, and there is tremendous pride in being able to cook and provide enjoyment for people. It is a profession in which you can develop professionally and personally, and it teaches fundamental and valuable life skills. For those looking to carve a lifelong career, there are a lot of opportunities for progression in the kitchen, whether that’s into specialist areas, such as pastry or artisan bread, or opening your own restaurant.

Once chefs have learnt the core skills and reached a certain level, the profession offers the ability to travel, as you can pick up your career in any country – the world really is your oyster.

For more information on HIT Training visit

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