Apprentice Week by Jane Sarchet, The HedgeCombers

Apprentice week is one of the main highlights of the year at Fifteen Cornwall when the apprentices get let loose in the kitchen under the watchful eye of Karl, the Training and Development Chef, to prove their skills as emerging chefs.

Monday was Family Day when each student invites two members of their family to enjoy a three course lunch in the restaurant. The tables are arranged so that the family members get front row seats at the kitchen pass so they can watch the apprentices in action.

Monday was also the day that Storm Imogen was in full force outside and it was the first time I’d ever been to Watergate Bay and not seen the ocean dotted with surfers. The wall of windows overlooking the beach was constantly being pelted with seaspray which added a lovely cosy factor for the diners who had managed to brave the extremes in exchange for a superb lunch.

Normally you’ll see a balanced mix of black hats and white hats in the kitchen, black hats being worn by the professional chefs that oversee the students on a one-to-one basis, and white hats worn by the apprentices themselves. Aside from Karl, who oversees all of the chef’s training, there are only white hats to be seen in Apprentice Week!

It’s the first time I’ve actually watched Cohort 10 in chef mode, as I normally see them on various sourcing trips throughout the year and I guess I was expecting to see some level of nervousness from being in the spotlight. However, there was an air of calm with everyone moving about their stations with confidence prepping and serving their meals for a busy lunch service. There was also banter between the young chefs which proved to me this wasn’t just for show, they were clearly doing what they do, and enjoying it.

As the family members were seated they were given a menu stating which course was being prepped by which chefs. I grabbed the chance to speak to a couple of the families to find out how they had found the experience and if Fifteen Cornwall had made a difference to their lives.

The one thing that everyone said was that they had grown in confidence, not just in terms of cooking; their entire life had been changed for the better.

Millie’s parents joked that they were jealous of the opportunities Millie had been given, and that the support she’d received throughout the year had been outstanding.

Craig had invited his Mum, Linda and his girlfriend Ashley for lunch. When I asked Ashley how Fifteen had changed Craig’s life, she welled up and explained that it had given Craig a second chance in life, and created a stable foundation for their 2 year old daughter Ava to grow up in.

The emotion behind her words made me see the true gift that the Fifteen ethos brings to people. These chefs aren’t just statistics, they are young people, some of which are facing challenges in their lives and have been given a hand up to better themselves, thereby create a better future for the people around them.

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