There’s a new item on the menu for Scotland’s only social enterprise bar group: a chef training programme to give disadvantaged young people the qualifications for a career in catering.
The Beer for Good group said the scheme was the next step in the creation of an academy for catering and hospitality staff, and that it was already looking to expand the programme to other venues throughout the country.
Head chef Matthias Sandler, of the Edinburgh-based Community Interest Company, said: “We’re going to recruit young people who maybe haven’t done well at school, or who have struggled to find work, and give them the support and training for them to become fully trained chefs, and help turn their lives around.”
Matthias, 35, (above) revealed that he had developed an “adventurous” new tapas menu that would enable his trainees to learn a broad range of cooking styles and ingredients, while still delivering high-quality restaurant food to customers.
He added: “This is beautiful food, beautifully presented. We’re being adventurous with our offering, giving the customer some exciting options but also enabling me to give a classic chef’s training in our kitchen. It won’t be easy, and nothing will be getting served that isn’t perfect.”
The menu has just gone live in the group’s flagship Harry’s Bar, which was reopened last year as a social enterprise bar and restaurant by Beer for Good owner Chris Thewlis, a social entrepreneur who has also established the social enterprise security firm GTS and co-founded the Ginerosity spirit.
Together, Chris and Matthias developed the chef training programme. Applicants, they said, would come from referral partner organisations such as the Prince’s Trust, with the first applicants due to start shortly.
Of the menu, Chris said: “Harry’s is about delivering fresh, honest cooked food, about being consistently high quality, while at the same time supporting people and helping them build a career for themselves. The fact we’ve designed our menu around this initiative shows how committed we are.”
He said that Beer for Good was the first social enterprise to deliver this type of vocational chef’s course in support of disadvantaged young people in this way.
The course will take trainees three years, after which they will have a SVQ Level 5 in professional cookery, attained through vocational experience within the Beer for Good kitchens.
Matthias, who trained in Germany, has been head chef of the four-star Mercure Caledonia in Aberdeen before moving to Edinburgh to work as head chef in Loch Fyne. He joined Beer for Good in November.
He said his job was 30% chef, 70% social worker, adding: “Chefs come under enormous stress…the hours, the heat, the pressure. You need to give people support, you need to be like a family.”
Talking personally, Matthias said he had personal reasons for moving to help run the programme. “I believe in what (we’re) doing. And, while I would not say I had a troubled youth, I certainly was given a second chance, so yes, for me this is personal as well as professional. It’s good to be able to give something back.
“We want the (trainees) to experience a banquet kitchen, a hotel kitchen, fine dining, as well as the corporate sector, which is where the bulk of the jobs are. Trainee chefs need to appreciate the different types of kitchens so they know which direction to take in life.
“It’s not for everyone this job, it’s a tough industry, there’s plenty of adrenaline and action, but working in a kitchen you also get taught discipline and build strong ties. You’re given a place to belong. I’ve always thought it was like a family.
“We look after each other in the kitchen. People who come to work here find support that perhaps they haven’t experienced before. Everyone starts from the same position – they also come in as equals, but it’s up to them how well they do.”
Beer for Good will be taking on full-time apprentices in the kitchen at Harry’s, as well as its sister venue Southside Social. The company will also be taking on front-of-house trainees, as well as continuing to provide placements for the JET (Jobs, Education and Training) programme in partnership with Edinburgh City Council.
Matthias and Chris said they would be using their contacts in the hospitality sector to give trainees work experience in other cities and other kitchens, such as in venues in Aberdeen and St Andrews, and with fellow chefs, including one well known Michelin chef.
Chris said there was also a definite appetite from other social enterprise organisations to see the programme expanded beyond the Beer for Good group, and that they were in talks with potential partners.