Trainee chefs from West Nottinghamshire College got a taste of what it takes to create award-winning food and run a professional kitchen – from three former students who are rapidly making a name for themselves in the world of gastronomy.
It came courtesy of an end-of-year trip by catering and hospitality students to renowned restaurant The Black Bull Blidworth, Blidworth, last week (Tuesday 19 June) to sample dishes cooked by joint head chefs Lewis Kuciers and Craig Hadden and chef de partie Rees Whelpton.
The talented trio put together a special three-course menu for the entry-level and level one students and staff before taking part in a question and answer session, which saw them reveal the ideas behind their culinary creations and what inspired them to become chefs, along with their tips for career success.
Dishes on the menu included a starter of baked John Dory with seaweed vinegar gel, puffed pork skin and grated horseradish, black pudding purée and parsley sauce split with parsley oil. This was followed by a main course of chicken and mushroom suet pudding, confit chicken wing, crisp chicken skin, mushroom sauce, asparagus, and chips. It was rounded off with a dessert of sheep yoghurt mousse, Starkey’s strawberries, strawberry and lovage granita, lovage meringue, and strawberry gel.
Inventive dishes such these have earned The Black Bull two coveted AA Rosettes for culinary excellence – one of just two pubs in Nottinghamshire to hold the double honour – along with the title of ‘best out of town establishment’ at the 2017 Nottinghamshire Food and Drink Awards.
Meanwhile, Lewis, 21, was named best young chef at this year’s Nottinghamshire Food and Drink Awards, held at the De Vere East Midlands Conference Centre on Thursday 14 June, after triumphing over five fellow competitors in a MasterChef-style cooking competition hosted by the college in May, judged by celebrated two-Michelin star chef Sat Bains.
It was the latest individual accolade for Lewis, who was one of just seven Craft Guild of Chefs graduate award winners from across the UK last year, joining its coveted Hall of Fame.
Level 1 Diploma in Hospitality and Catering student Patrick Murray, 17, said: “Seeing and tasting their food has given me a better insight into how to balance-out dishes in terms of flavour and texture. Hearing from these guys has given me a goal to aim for.”
Ruth Ajayi, also 17, who studied on the same course, said: “It was interesting to learn what they went through to become successful chefs and the gratitude they still have for the college. It makes me appreciate the tutors we have; if they can do this for other students, they can do it for us too.”
Lewis and Craig graduated from the college in 2015 with the NVQ Level 3 Diploma in Professional Cookery, with Rees graduating the following year with the same qualification.
Chef tutor Mark Jones, who continues to mentor The Black Bull chefs, said: “The idea was to show current students what they can aspire towards after completing their course. Hopefully they can take some inspiration to move forwards and progress through the levels, like Craig, Lewis and Rees did, and maybe they will have similar opportunities in the future, with the right skills behind them.
“The industry is crying out for high-calibre chefs and these are exactly what we’re trying to produce.”
Speaking about Lewis’s latest accolade, Mark said: “I was very proud to learn Lewis has been crowned Nottinghamshire’s best young chef, although I wasn’t at all surprised his talent has been recognised in this way. He thoroughly deserves it.
“Having taught and mentored Lewis from the start, his continuous drive, passion and dedication to his craft is fantastic. I know he and his colleagues are constantly evolving as chefs and it’s wonderful to see.”
Lewis said: “We wouldn’t be where we are now if it wasn’t for the college, so it’s good to give something back. By talking to students about our routes into professional cookery and aspects such as choosing the right produce and correct pricing, we’ve hopefully broadened their knowledge.”
Craig, 22, added: “To succeed in this business, you need the right attitude and aptitude, and a passion for what you do – that was my main message to them. If they take just a little bit of what we’ve said and carry it forward, that’s brilliant.”