Students showcase skills at Scottish Spring Awakening

Talented chefs of the future at Perth College UHI showcased their skills by serving up a Celebration of Skills ‘Scottish Spring Awakening’ dinner to invited VIPs and industry heads.

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(left to right) Nikola Plhakova, Scottish Sodexo Chef of the Year; David Ward, Executive Chef at Sodexo; Helen Vass, winner of BBC’s Bake Of Crème de la Crème; John Swinney, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills.

The showcase dinner – for guests including Scotland’s Deputy First Minister John Swinney – marked the culmination of a unique Craft Skills Week mentored by leading Executive Chef David Ward and sponsored by global food and beverage management services employer Sodexo. More than 60 Food Studies and Hospitality students were involved, taking their training to a new level at the hands of industry experts in advanced skills such as game handling and chocolate work.

Also taking training to a new level for the students throughout the week were TV's Creme de la Creme winner and patisserie expert Helen Vass and Scottish Sodexo Chef of the Year Nikola Plhakova. Local experts in game and fish handling also provided workshops for the students. Font of house students also benefitted from training from industry experts in skills such as cocktail making and drinks service.

Sector Manager for Food Studies and Hospitality at Perth College UHI, Ian Gibb, explained that the unique skills week and the showcase dinner – now in their second year – had been geared to the development of students’ ability and confidence, promoting the industry and training.

“Throughout the week the students were all attending specialist workshops and then using those skills and their course work to prepare, cook, present and serve at the showcase dinner,” he explained. “They were learning what the world of work will be like at the hands of the best in the business and seeing that there is nothing to fear from skills such as chocolate work. Once they have learned the techniques, their only limitation is their own imagination and ambition.”

The five course dinner – described by John Swinney MSP as a “exquisite” – was served to an impressed guest list including those representing industry, chefs, awarding bodies, education, local authority, sponsors and prospective students and parents.

Sodexo’s partnership with the department is now in its sixth year and Mr Gibb described this annual project as a “new tier” in the support relationship. “Perth College UHI has benefitted greatly from the support of the industry leaders Sodexo and this unique training week and showcase dinner shows what can be achieved to help prepare the students for life in what is a very hard and demanding industry,” he said. “We’re immensely grateful to Sodexo for helping Perth College UHI pull this week together - the only college in Scotland to offer students this type of training experience.”

Jonathan Keitch, Account Director with Sodexo, who provide services for hospitality and catering at Perth College UHI’s Crieff Road campus, said a huge part of their support was to help with curriculum development and provide learning opportunities and internships for the students. “We help to shape the raw student material into the future leaders of the industry,” he said. “By building our partnership with the college we look at ways to enhance and add value to the student experience and this week has achieved that.

“I’m extremely proud of what they’ve achieved and of the outstanding showcase dinner they delivered,” added Mr Keitch. “There is a shortage of talented people coming into the hospitality sector but this event helps make college students more industry ready and gives everyone encouragement that the future should be in good hands if we continue to work together in partnership.”

Executive Chef David Ward described the showcase dinner served at the end of his skills training week with the students as “exceptional”. “The students engaged at every stage of the week and exceeded my expectations in what they delivered at the VIP dinner,” he said. “The whole experience gave them a taste of what life in the industry can be like and they all embraced the opportunity to learn and contribute to a fantastic team effort. We started the week with a group of students in a classroom and ended it with a team of potential chefs.”