Kendal Catering College, meet the culinary team

MEET the Culinary Team, the latest embodiment of the globe-trotting students who are helping to make a formidable reputation for a catering college. This summer they are off to Portugal to fine-tune their skills, particularly in tasting and serving wine.

Next year it could be Dubai, as last year it was Chicago and the year before Rome.

But these are no holidays as they are partly well-earned rewards for sheer hard work and 100 per cent commitment.

They are also tremendous learning experiences in hospitality and life. The culinary team consists of handpicked students from Kendal College on the fringes of the English Lake District.

More than 20 years ago Kendal College was famous for its catering training, essential to a part of the country so dependent on the tourism and hospitality industries. The years and a few wrong turns in strategy led it astray. But now it is back with a reputation that is spreading fast, not just round the world, but into other education institutions and the main-stream hospitality industry.

Kendal Catering College

Leading the charge is the culinary team.

Their mentor is Mike Mounfield, head of school at the college for hospitality and Richard Axford Chef lecturer in the school. Mike arrived in Kendal five years ago from South Trafford College in Altringham. He had entered higher education after being a Head Chef for ICI and gained full Master Chefs of Great Britain, which took him to Granada TV where he teamed up with Fred Talbot on Grubs Up.

In Kendal he found that the students were frequently asked to cater for events and functions. So he decided to maximise the benefits for the college, students and customers by forming the Culinary Team.

When recruiting, we are looking for students who have the right attitude and commitment to do well in the hospitality industry,” said Mr Mounfield.

Every student in a year’s in-take, of about 40, is invited to join. They have to write a letter saying why they want to be in the team and include their future ambitions in the industry.

Then they have to prepare a couple of dishes. Finally they are interviewed and deliberately tested to make sure they can perform under pressure.

Eventually a dozen are chosen for the team. They cater for events and functions in the college, a service which has been stepped up following a £12.9 million refurbishment that has provided high class cooking and dining facilities.

They also go out on the road to cater for conferences, festivals and other events.

Not all last the pace and students have been sacked from the team for being late, giving the wrong image or being too complacent.

Mike and Richard are looking for students who arrive 10 minutes earlier than asked and are still there making sure the floor is scrubbed clean after a function, whatever the time of night. For some students from the more far flung communities that can be a real challenge. But for Mr Mounfield distance and transport are no excuses. “If they want to be part of the team, it is up to them to organise lifts,” he says.

At the end of the academic year they go on the trips aimed at furthering their experience, but even then they raise the money themselves.

The purpose of the first trip to Rome was to focus was on food service and the team served to the Italian Senate.

The purpose of the second was to study hospitality and customer care standards in the US. They stayed at Goose Island in Chicago and visited the prestigious Kendall College named after a local family. It specialises in hospitality and catering.

They visited local restaurants, the White Socks baseball team and McDonald’s University, where they got to meet the executive chief of world chef. At the end of the trip they were presented with the extra “L”, now proudly displayed on the restaurant wall.

The Portugal trip, starting on July 9, will be to study wine serving and tasting but will also include one of the top ten scenic railway trips on the world.

With this sort of grounding the students are picking up accolades and jobs at top outlets like Sharrow Bay Hotel, near Penrith.

In addition to the culinary team, Kendal College is forging partnerships that promise to promote its reputation as the premier college for studying catering.

At Cambridge University it is providing consultancy support to reduce the impact of waste.

The Shire Hotel group, which has nine establishments between Penrith and Southampton, has sought the college’s help to improve service and morale, and reduce turnover, front of house.

The college has ambitious plans to progress even further with National Skills Academy status, and Mr Mounfield is keen to recruit current school pupils to be the students of 2011 and 2012 so it can help the London Olympics cater for the millions of visitors expected in the capital.

This last is a natural progression of its current junior chefs academy, where year 9 and 10 pupils from local schools are tutored in the rudiments of catering careers, with the help of chef Nick Martin and sponsorship from contract caterers Compass.