The F-word

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Lucy Britner looks at how pubco and brewer Fuller's is working to develop its chefs with a bespoke training course It's a fact that there's a skills...

Lucy Britner looks at how pubco and brewer Fuller's is working to develop its chefs with a bespoke training course

It's a fact that there's a skills shortage in the UK cheffing arena, so it's no wonder pubcos are trying to educate and inspire chefs themselves.

Fuller's answer to Marco Pierre White comes in the shape of training manager Linda Horner and catering trainer Tim Barnes.

The dynamic duo - along with a team of operations managers, catering trainers and exec chefs - have devised a programme to train kitchen staff in its 150 managed pubs in useful, practical skills.

Fuller's announced its results in June: food sales have grown by an impressive 51% and food now accounts for 27% of total revenue

in Fuller's managed houses - up from 21% the previous year.

In 2002, the company installed a training kitchen at its Chiswick brewery, and in 2005 the food team decided it was time to create a chef development programme.

Tim says: "We were looking for a way to get a dedicated team of people to stay with us and improve the quality of the food across the estate. People were starting to think about the smoking ban and the standard of pub food was improving throughout the industry. We knew we had the skills to do this in-house and needed to find a way to utilise them."

The course

It starts with an assessment day that determines whether or not candidates are ready to embark on the nine-month course. Linda says: "Staff are nominated by managers or ops managers, then we hold a day to assess kitchen skills, food knowledge and also test for English and maths. More and more kitchen staff speak English as a second language, so we have invested £2,500 in English lessons."

Two groups of eight then embark on the course itself. This is based around eight core training days held at the brewery.

The days include an overview of the food market, including trends and special dietary requirements. There are practical sessions on butchery, preparing fish and making stocks, and the features also include ethnic cookery courses, kitchen management, book keeping, hygiene, stock control and kitchen safety. The safety aspect includes Tim's "stunt cat" and several other kitchen hazards that candidates have to spot around the training kitchen.

Tim is now taking the third group through the cycle, and the course has evolved after feedback from previous students.

He says: "We wanted to offer a little more than an NVQ. We have guest speakers, such as butchers and fishmongers, and each course has homework. The course is designed so that employees can move up the ranks in the kitchen. Some people complete the course and become head chefs and we talk to managers about their progress so we can continue our relationship with them. There is healthy competition across the estate and students have made lots of friends."

The catering development courses aren't linked to NVQ or other nationally recognised qualifications, but Linda says she is hoping to align them with the BII's catering qualification.

She adds: "NVQ is very specific - we do one on cookery and presentation, but we try to do much more fluid learning. NVQs are very structured and rigid; they do have a great deal of value but they can sometimes be a tick-box exercise."

Expectations

Students are not signed up to any loyalty agreement but most pupils from the previous courses are still with Fuller's. Tim says: "The time and effort we invest in the chefs gives them a sense of belonging and they are loyal to the company. The standard is getting higher and higher, and there is already a waiting list for the next course."

On the final day of training, candidates are presented with a mystery box of ingredients. Then Jonathan Swain, the operations director for Quality Inns, suggests beer matches and tries the dishes. Chefs are encouraged to take the matches back to their pubs.

The graduate

Jay Myatt, chef at the Rose & Crown, Ealing, London, shares his experiences

of the training course

Jay started his career with Fuller's two years ago at the Paper Mill, in Hemel Hempstead, in Hertfordshire.

He says: "I progressed from the back of the kitchen to working on the front. The manager suggested I should try for the course and I jumped at the chance.

"The course offers all-round knowledge - book keeping, health and hygiene, how to write menus depending on the pub location and the time of year. One of the most interesting things for me was special dietary requirements. Now I've got head chefs and exec chef friends asking me questions."

Jay has recently launched a new menu based around research into what people want to eat now the smoking ban is here. Typical dishes include a half-pint of shell-on prawns (£5.95), and grilled chicken breast on a pea and bacon risotto (£9.95). Jay says: "It's all about grazing and sharing. The new pizza menu is popular with students on quiz night. We sell 15 to 20 pizzas on a Sunday night and also do them to take away."

According to Jay, one of the most beneficial exercises on the course was how to choose and price your menu. He says: "We looked at other restaurants in the high street and how much they charge, and at what supermarkets sell and what their range of sandwiches is like. Then we repeated the exercise in our own area."

The Rose & Crown was given a mini face-lift in time for the smoke ban, and now has an open kitchen and sheltered outside area. Jay adds: "I love the interaction with customers and the discipline it makes you maintain. It helps when people can see how busy you are - they don't mind waiting for food.

"I would encourage chefs to do the course. It gives you all-round knowledge and I definitely want to stay with Fuller's - they invested in my career."

Jay hopes to move to a bigger

kitchen and manage his own house

and kitchen team in the future.

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