The apprentice: learning on the job

In 2015, Gareth Sefton FCSI of UK-based consultancy SHW took the unusual step of hiring an apprentice. Jack Luckings blogs about his latest work placement at prestigious London members’ club, Boodle’s

A private members’ club was the last place I thought I would be spending time in. I was at Boodle’s for two days gaining a brief insight into how the kitchen operated, the demands it needed to meet, and, most importantly, what one of our finished kitchens actually looks like. My first day couldn’t have gone better. I met head chef Stephen Carter in the morning, was introduced to the team and given my chef whites.

The day started off working with 19-year-old Joe, who recently started at Boodle’s. I was instructed to peel carrots and cut them in halves. Two boxes and a sore hand later, I was finished. What next? Spaghetti veg. Spaghetti veg simply means peeling and cutting vegetables and hand turning them through a slicer. I went on to cut potatoes into chips, batter whitebait and peel what seemed like a never-ending bag of Maris Pipers. Gareth had warned me that I would be peeling a lot of potatoes. With all the preparation complete for the day there was no choice but to go home.

The next morning I was up at 5am, eager to get back into the kitchen and peel some more spuds. I walked into the changing room to find my own chef whites complete with nametag and began to feel like I was part of the Boodle’s family. Today was a big day, preparing all the necessary food for lunchtime service. I was ready for the first ticket to come through the door and, when it did, I sprang in to action. Joe showed me the basics of plating up and presentation. I felt privileged that he let me have the responsibility of cooking the food and helping out with service. I couldn’t believe I was cooking for guests, using a cook suite and plating up meals. I never imagined being able to do any of it having never been in a commercial kitchen before.

Every time an order was shouted, I scanned the cook suite, calculating whether there were enough portions and whether the food was ready to plate up. When desserts were ordered, I would use the hatch sent up from the basement kitchen and run them over to the cold pass. I felt integral to the operation. After service had finished, Gareth popped into the kitchen to see how I was getting on and, as if by fate, walked in as I was peeling potatoes. “I said you would be peeling spuds,” he told me.

Afterwards, it was time to clean down all the equipment. I followed Joe with blue roll and disinfectant, wiping down every work surface. When everything was clean, I made my way down to Stephen’s office to tell him about the impact of the experience on my understanding of a kitchen. He was more than happy to say I could re-live the entire experience again. On my homebound journey, I was proud to have survived two days in the kitchen. I thoroughly enjoyed my stint at Boodle’s and want to thank Boodle’s and Stephen for the opportunity. They have helped develop my understanding of how a kitchen works by giving me hands on experience.

Learning the ropes

Boodle’s taught me a lot of things that can’t be learned sitting behind a computer screen. The most prominent was how integral communication is between chefs and that interaction is key to effective utilisation of a kitchen. Spacing. One word that is so integral to functionality of kitchens. By using equipment, moving around the kitchen and plating dishes for service, I learnt that it could mean the difference between a smooth-running operation and total disaster. Clever space planning and design not only help the kitchen run properly but also allow for a space restricted area, like Boodle’s, to be maximised for effective usage.

Prior to Boodle’s, I visited the Palux factory in Germany to learn about their product range and innovative design ideas. I was given a tour of the workshop where all the equipment was manufactured and pieced together. I was amazed by the processes required to build a dishwasher and transform it from a flat piece of metal to a fully functioning piece of equipment.

What’s next?

As for more placements, there may be a fabricator, a foodservice equipment provider and another kitchen. They will all offer something different. Without sounding clichéd, I would love to meet Heston Blumenthal and work in a kitchen with him. I would love to know what he is like in person and the dynamic he has with his chefs such as Jonny Lake and Ashley Palmer-Watts. That would be one of the dream placements.

Choosing an apprenticeship has been the best decision I have ever made. I am being exposed to all aspects of the industry and meeting with many extraordinary and talented individuals. By listening to their experiences, my knowledge has been enriched. Without Gareth and the SHW team, I would not be in the position I am today.



Q&A with chef Stephen Carter, Boodle’s

Stephen Carter, head chef at Boodle’s, started his career with an apprenticeship at the Savoy Hotel, London. Vicky Mayne talked with him about the importance of hands-on experience for SHW’s apprentice Jack Luckings and the value of giving young people opportunities

What did you think were Jack’s strengths?

He has a very positive attitude and knows what he wants to achieve. He enjoys his work at SHW and really appreciates the opportunities that they are giving him. He is getting an insight in to how the chefs work in a kitchen and I think that’s really important for a designer. When it comes to drawing up any documents, he’s going to immediately see from the perspective of having worked in the foodservice industry.

Do you think this will give him an edge in his career?

Certainly. From past experience, if a designer doesn’t know what the linear flow is in an area, then they will only design a piece of equipment to fit in to a corner without thinking about why. There’s probably a reason it should or shouldn’t be in that corner. It will be enormously beneficial.

What was the most important thing he learnt?

The diversity of another industry. Although it’s a linked industry, working as a chef is quite tough and when somebody comes in from outside and sees the hours and dedication that goes in to it, it’s usually quite a shock, especially for someone who is office-based.

Why is this a good thing for the industry?

All apprenticeships are good for the industry. We have an apprentice team at Boodle’s that I’m very proud of. It’s important for people to get a grip on what the industry is about from a young age.

Did you ever get any work experience like this?

Whilst I was at college, I won Student of the Year and this came with a six-week work experience block at the Savoy Hotel in London. That was 30 years ago. It was a turning point for me. If I hadn’t done that apprenticeship, things would probably be different. Without that experience, I truly believe that I would never have come to London.

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