Qualifications aren’t everything in catering 1

This week saw the release of GCSE & A Level results, and after reading a heartfelt post on another blog it got me thinking. Catering was once the last refuse of the less academically gifted & where career advisors would often recommend school leavers to go if they couldn’t do anything else. Many often found a niche for themselves, from the SAS of kitchens as MPW once famously called Harveys, to the Monday to Friday contract caterers, there is something for everybody.

I entered the hospitality industry as trainee management over 20 years ago; then there were only really two or three clearly defined routes. College full or part time were the two main ones; I chose part time with a big corporate sponsor & a clearly defined plan. I wasn’t a great student at school, in fact some would say distinctly average with only two grades at C or above for the inaugural year of GCSEs. I got my placement with a national luxury brand who pooled all their regions recruits together & did intensive courses which combined day to day work experience, theory work & extensive study work. I excelled, coming consistently in the top 5 in every group I was in. The reason to me now is obvious, the subject matter was engaging, I could see it in action on a daily basis. Eventually I did day release to a local college and due to the ever mounting pressures at work I nearly failed due to lack of attendance (lots of 6 days on & 1 day off). I persevered and that year at my college I was the only part time student to achieve distinctions & only one of four in the entire year.

In catering qualifications aren’t everything. Two of the most influential chefs of the past 30 years in the UK didn’t have a formal cooking qualification to their names when they set out on culinary adventures. Marco Pierre White & Raymond Blanc have spawned the largest number of Michelin starred chefs from their kitchens than any of their counterparts. Yes Mr White & Mr Blanc are very much exceptions that prove the rule. Talent is only part of the package, hard work & the right attitude is just as important. As two Michelin starred chef Nathan Outlaw tweeted earlier this week:

Don’t worry if the A level results are not what your looking for! As long as your enthusiastic and jolly hospitality industry will have you!

Lots of short sighted chefs have bemoaned the current college education of chefs, saying that colleges & lecturers are failing the industry. I say short sighted as they clearly don’t understand, that ultimately tutors to those that are just entering into the industry are tasked with actually passing exams. So the people failing the industry are those that set the syllabus.

Many high profile chefs have actually set up their own academies or work with colleges to better equip people embarking into the culinary world. Two Michelin starred chefs Michael Caines (Gidleigh Park) & Nathan Outlaw (Restaurant Nathan Outlaw) are just two that spring to mind.

I did say earlier in this post that qualifications aren’t everything for catering and to a certain extent this is true. Knowledge, experience, attitude & connections also count for a lot and will come over time. Ultimately with hospitality you will only get out of it, whether it’s fame, money or job satisfaction, what you put in.

Mark Jordan - Scallops & Pork

Image courtsey of Mark Jordan (via The Dovetail agency)
Scallops & Pork from the Michelin starred Atlantic Hotel, Jersey.

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One thought on “Qualifications aren’t everything in catering

  • Alex

    Fantastic post! Knowledge, skill, flair and a good work ethic are the key to being a successful chef or caterer – not necessarily obtaining qualifications. Obviously, there are many fine courses available, but they aren’t a substitute for dedication to the job.

    Best wishes, Alex.