Level 5 Culinary Arts
Phillip studies Culinary Arts at Newcastle College University Centre. He Stepped Up to a degree after studying at Newcastle College. Find out what he has to say about his time learning with us.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself, your background, etc.?
My parents are chefs, they own their own takeaway restaurant, where I work part-time. Growing up in that environment, cooking was initially a hobby and something I started being interested in around 12 years old. I took a GCSE in cooking and I was actually planning to study at Sixth Form, but then my cousin recommended I come to Newcastle College instead since the courses were more vocational. I enrolled here and I’ve stayed ever since.
Why did you choose to step up to a degree at Newcastle College University Centre?
At the time, it was a no-brainer since the opportunity to progress onto a degree course with more qualifications, but the same fantastic friends, lecturers and industry-standard facilities was right in front of me. The tutors were all very familiar, so I understood their teaching style, and they could give me one-to-one coaching on how to improve my skills when I needed, which is something I maybe wouldn’t get at another, larger course at a different university. I also enjoyed the way the University Centre staff advertised the course as more practical and skills-based, which really appealed to me.
What was it about this course that made you want to progress onto a degree at Newcastle College University Centre?
Newcastle College University Centre is the only real option in the local area for an industry-standard culinary degree. Although I researched the course at Newcastle University, I found it was far less practical, skills-based learning, and was far more scientific and based in nutrition. When I got the opportunity to study this degree at the University Centre, I took it, since it felt more like the field I wanted. There’s also a far greater level of culinary freedom on this degree course, since sometimes in lessons we’re given mystery ingredients to use to create a dish, without having a brief to follow. I respond well to that kind of open learning, so it felt good to be studying a course which felt more tailored to me and my preferences.
What benefits do you think there are in choosing to stay on to study at Newcastle College University Centre?
Steppin’ Up to the University Centre allows us to have better connections with different businesses within the industry. Since we’re so familiar with our tutors in the Chef’s Academy, they aren’t just giving us advice based on their own tips and experiences, but they can also put in good references for us with other chefs and industry professionals. If we wanted to look into specific businesses, or restaurants that cook specific styles of cuisine, then our lecturers can contact the chefs at those businesses to put in a good word for us. That kind of on-the-job networking isn’t something that other courses could provide. Additionally, the University Centre staff sometimes bring in professional chefs to talk to us or provide masterclasses, or to speak to us about other job opportunities.
What are the facilities like at the University Centre for your course and as a student?
We have the HE Hub and Parsons tenth floor as good university student zones to work in or relax. Aside from that, we use the exact same industry-standard kitchens as we did at Level 3, which is good since I was already familiar with the layout and all the equipment. I still feel like we could do with a bit more variety of equipment to cover the more emerging area of cookery, such as molecular cooking, but there’s a limit to how much we could do since our lecturers don’t always have the necessary experience to work with them (so for example, if we wanted to use dry ice or liquid nitrogen in our cooking). In terms of our cooking resources and ingredients, we’ve got a good range that we use to produce great results.
What do you enjoy the most about your degree?
The course is split into different modules, and since starting at Newcastle College University Centre there has been a far greater focus on theory. That said, I enjoy the practical side more, since I like how every day of our degree is different, because our tutors keep trying to push us out of our comfort zones, such as working with larders, or cooking pastries, or other new techniques or fields of cooking. Also, the University Centre offers far more special guest speakers who come in to give us talks, which I really appreciate since it’s an insight into the sector from current industry professionals who know what they’re talking about.
What inspires you?
This might sound strange, but my inspirations in cookery usually change quite a lot. The food industry is ever-expanding, so I enjoy how the food we use to cook is changing all the time, as well as the chefs we look at. I often find new chefs and new inspirations online, not just the celebrity chefs everyone talks about but the lesser-known businesspeople who use interesting new styles, cuisine, or taste combinations. I know I have friends who would probably talk about celebrity chefs, and our tutors also name-drop some famous chefs of the past, but I get more inspiration personally from modern chefs using normal cooking in innovative ways, rather than anyone well-known who aren’t quite so daring anymore. Also, my parents, since we’re in a similar field, so I know with their support that the field I’ve chosen will pay off in the future.
Tell us about how you have worked with industry whilst studying your degree (i.e. talks / live briefs / projects).
We’ve had a lot of good guest speakers come in to talk to us about the industry. What they discuss tends to be quite closely linked to our modules, which is fantastic because it feels like our course is really industry-integrated, so I know that everything I’m learning is being used now by professional chefs. For example, we had a guest speaker who did the styling for Greggs, and we had an interesting conversation after the lecture about how advertising and styling for cookery changes between university and the industry. There have also been opportunities to work with other departments in Newcastle College University Centre. Around Christmas, I was able to work with a student photographer to help them with their student magazine. This helped me to build some connections, since she’s also doing her degree while advertising her own products.
How do you think learning from industry experienced tutors has benefitted you?
Our tutors already have loads of experience, so they are able to give us far more in-depth advice, and answer any questions I might have thoughtfully and with meaningful answers. A lot of our tutors have industry experience in different areas of cookery, or even in different sectors altogether, so asking around for advice from a few different lecturers means we get a lot of angles on our next steps. For me, Newcastle College University Centre really prioritises this ethos of teaching and learning through experience, rather than just teaching important knowledge from textbooks, which I believe will help me in my career goals.
How would you describe the staff at the University Centre?
I’m pretty familiar and comfortable with the staff now, since I’ve studied with them since Level 2. I know how they teach, and they know how I learn best, so it meant that potentially awkward transition period from college life to university life was practically non-existent when I first started at the University Centre, and that I could be confident that I was learning from the best right from the start.
Have you overcome any challenges either before or whilst studying your degree?
In terms of challenges, I used to struggle a bit with writing reports, since our day-to-day academics doesn’t always prioritise formal long writing. Thanks to help from the HE Team and Learning Enhancement Coaches though, I feel like I’ve definitely improved and refined my technique more, so report writing and making presentations in the style people want isn’t quite so daunting anymore. I’ve also been able to hone my practical skills via college competitions and events that go on throughout the year. I really couldn’t thank the Student Services and HE Teams enough, they’ve all played a part in helping me gain the skills that will let me progress onto the next level of study.
What kinds of support have you received during your studies?
Our lecturers and the Student Support teams are always available when we need them to ask for help or guidance. They’re never precious with their time – in fact, our lecturers always encourage us to sit back at the end of lessons if we need any help, or if we want to ask any additional questions. They also offer one-to-one tutoring sessions if we request them, which is a fantastic help to my learning that I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have gotten had I studied anywhere other than the University Centre. We’ve also been able to access academic and pastoral support from the HE Teams and Student Services whenever we needed it, which proved how much of a community we’ve got at Newcastle College University Centre.
What has been the highlight of your time studying at Newcastle College University Centre?
Definitely building the connections through students and staff. Since we’re working in a wider college setting, the environment is really supportive among both staff and students, since everyone wants to succeed and everyone is working towards similar goals. Being able to progress and learn in a place so passionate about what I want to do is a fantastic opportunity, and a great feeling to boot! We can jump between ideas all the time, help each other out, and get new opinions or outside knowledge on any projects we’re doing or recipes we’re devising. Inspiration really can come from anywhere here – my tutors, guest speakers they bring in, or my fellow students, all of them have played a part in helping me develop.
What’s Newcastle like as a student city, in your experience?
I don’t have too much of a student experience personally, since I never really go out clubbing, I just focus more on work, and I still live at home with my parents. I have friends who live in student accommodation in town though, and they seem to have an amazing time in Newcastle, since it’s a very social place for students with lots of great bars, clubs and restaurants.
In what ways do you think your degree at Newcastle College University Centre has prepared you for employment?
Studying at Newcastle College University Centre has definitely made me more confident about approaching people, and putting myself out there for employers more. I feel far more capable of showing businesses that I’m applying to that I have the skills for any task they want, and that I could be a real asset to their business. Studying my degree here also means I’ve got great qualifications to back up the skills I’ve developed, the knowledge I’ve gained, and the experiences I’ve had along the way, as well as having a top-notch CV for when I start applying for jobs.
What are your plans after you graduate?
I don’t have a formal plan, but I want to go and experience different kinds of cookery in different fields, especially around international cuisine. I want to work part-time in a few different restaurants, and then gain extra qualifications and experience through them. I’m also interested in eventually entering the private dining sector, although I’ll need to get more work experience before that happens. I’ve also started a cookie business, so I’m hoping to build that up a little bit more.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking about Steppin’ Up to a degree at Newcastle College University Centre?
Just go for it! Learn as much as you can, take in as much as you can, and venture out into the industry yourself if you feel like you’ll learn best by diving straight in. Don’t feel like you can only go into standard cookery after graduation, since the tutors at Newcastle College University Centre can provide you with some brilliant connections across the sector – make the most of them! Whether you’re planning to progress onto Level 6 or Level 7 after this, don’t underestimate the value of the time you have now, not just to improve yourself and your learning, but also to go and explore what you really want to get out of a career as a chef.
Describe your student experience in three words.
Adventurous. Enlightening. Passion.
What are your top 5 tips for Steppin’ Up at Newcastle College?
Always take notes.
Make use of the Careers Coaches on Parsons tenth floor.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Step up when given the opportunity.