Despite college closures, Newcastle College cookery students have been able to benefit from virtual work experience opportunities, with award-winning North East chefs.

Prior to Covid, Newcastle College’s hospitality department enjoyed strong links with local industry head chefs, allowing students to head into local kitchens on a weekly basis to gain real life work experience and put their skills into practise.

When national lockdown and restaurant closures hit, the College was keen to keep students engaged. Tutors turned to online demonstrations and cook-alongs, as well as virtual cook-offs in which students were challenged to create innovative and tasty dishes in true MasterChef style, using only the ingredients sent out to them in the post.

However, Curriculum Leader for Hospitality and Catering, Phil Pringle recognised the importance of real work experience and industry networking for students. Together with the College’s Work Experience Team, Phil set up virtual work experience opportunities for Professional Cookery students.

Working with alumnus Kyle Greenwood, now the senior Soux Chef of the award-winning Peace and Loaf restaurant, students have been whipping up their creativity skills to design dishes for the local eatery. Level 1 students have been designing a dish for an ‘out of lockdown’ celebration for the restaurant, with Level 2 students developing a three-course seasonal menu. Level 3 students then delved into the logistics of designing a menu, calculating the profitability, costings and seasonal suitability of dishes they have created themselves.

“Learning about gross profits and the need to balance costing with ingredients, staffing and overheads is crucial to understanding how to get a good return on investment,” said Kyle. “Equipping the students with that knowledge at this early stage of their career will only benefit them once they enter the industry”

Speaking about her experience, Emily Wood commented, “Despite being online it was a fun and enlightening experience. It extended my knowledge through the detailed design and creation of the products, that included costings, its components and its visual look. “

Dave Kennedy, former North East Chef of the Year and now co-owner of the hugely successful fine foods and bakery goods company ‘Kennedy and Rhind’ is a great inspiration for the Newcastle College students in how to cater in the local market and current climate.

Students were tasked with producing five sweet and five savoury dishes that could be sold at a local Easter Market, with limited ingredients and equipment available in an open-air environment. The top three dishes will be sold at the market, and with restrictions now easing, students will now be able to visit Kennedy and Rhind during preparation and then help to sell the produce at the market.

This type of work experience highlights to students the range of work opportunities that are available to them outside of restaurants.

Dave commented: “I was so impressed by the time and effort the students put into the project - the standard was extremely high. Above all, it’s great for the students to experience the whole process of food production, from idea generation on paper, to actually making and selling the product.

 “There are so many quirky companies that have formed particularly due to Covid, which has changed the food industry. I hope the biggest benefit of this experience is that it will open students’ eyes to different avenues that they can take after they leave college.”

Over the next few weeks, both Kyle and David will review the students’ progress and offer their feedback on the projects. As restrictions lift further, and the North East is blessed with the reopening of the College’s very own Chefs' Academy restaurant, Kyle will finally work alongside the students, cooking up a taster menu comprising of the top three student designed dishes, as well as some of his own recipes. Dave is also set to assist on campus, guiding the students on how to plan for events as part of the Event Planning module.