Dish of the Day: Chefs of tomorrow
This week I had the pleasure of cooking with the apprentices of Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant, in their final week before graduation. As a guest chef, I was to spend a few hours in the kitchen with them, cook and chat and hopefully give some advice to help them when they are released into the wild, so to speak.
Now, Mr Oliver has divided opinion recently, what with his thoughts on British kids vs immigrant workers but, I have to say, what he is doing at Fifteen is both inspirational and life changing.
Chatting to one kid, whilst he is basting a slow braised lambs shoulder with a beautiful braising liquor, he tells me how a year ago he was in prison, having been involved with gangs, and that now, with this opportunity, he has a purpose, that his co-chefs are his family, as he has non of his own, and that he is actually quite scared to leave the restaurant (one condition of the scheme is that they can’t work in any of Jamie Oliver’s restaurants for a year, which is contrary to the common accusation that he is doing this purely to staff his own restaurants) but that he is exited to push on and learn more so he can prove himself and hopefully return and pay back “Mr Oliver” for his trust and faith in him.
John Rotherham, the new Executive chef, has a tough job his hands. His food is top notch, and he is fighting a hard to convince everyone that the restaurant has changed. Whilst doing that he is managing some potentially vulnerable kids, and he does it well. A balance of tough love and moral support, he walks the line very well.The support from the foundation is great too, father like figures are nurturing them all the way, good cop bad cop style, like any good father does.
Fighting drug addiction, resisting going back to gangs, bad family life, all of this and more, yet these kids are cooking, and cooking well. They care, they are driven and they know full well that his is the last chance for some of them. I’m inspired by them and by Jamie, to make a difference, and to not write people off. I’ve often said that kitchens are a great place to distract yourself if you have things on your mind, and now I believe it even more.
I honestly don’t care if he is rich, if its easier for him to be generous, or if he is opening a fast food place contrary to his preaching of healthy food. Jamie Oliver means well, and even if he is in it for the money, the by-product is positive, which is more than can be said for a lot of other people with cash. In an industry screaming for staff, he is paying for their education, then sending them out in the industry, which is just what we need.
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