An innovative project from Bristol24/7 and the Square Food Foundation is inspiring a new generation of chefs in the city.
Since autumn 2017, the Young Chefs project has developed into a bi-annual 12 week course aimed at young people who aren’t at work or in other education. The course delivers practical qualifications, invaluable experience and has directly led to graduates gaining permanent employment in the industry.
In 2017 we were developing our new social impact programme, which has now evolved into the wide reaching Better Bristol initiative aimed improving lives, addressing local issues, amplifying voices of marginalised communities and creating opportunities in the city. We were also in the process of compiling our inaugural EatDrink24/7, Bristol’s first truly independent annual food and drink guide.
“If you ask any Bristol head chef what they want more than anything else, the answer will be a driven, passionate and willing-to-learn young chef,” said Barny Haughton from Square Food Foundation, and these sentiments were echoed by many of the chefs and restaurateurs on our EatDrink24/7 panel.
We heard the same story over and over again: despite Bristol’s burgeoning food scene there was a lack of young chefs coming through in the city.
Those conversations and a desire to help create opportunities for young people inspired the first project: a short training programme for 10 young people at the Square Food kitchen in Knowle West, with workshops from some of Bristol’s top chefs including Imogen Waite of Season & Taste (who own Bravas, Cargo Cantina and more), Josh Eggleton of the Pony & Trap and Adrian Kirikmaa, chef manager at City of Bristol College.
This culminated in a sold-out Autumn Feast in November 2017, held at Paintworks Events Space and attended by more than 200 guests.
Many of the young people who took part in the project came back to cook at a street-food-style experience at the launch of Bristol Food Connections Festival in June 2018.
Having learnt lessons from our 2017 pilot, Bristol24/7 and Square Food Foundation launched How To Be A Chef in September of the following year.
This was the first 12-week course and provided the skills and qualifications needed to start a career in the food and drink industry. Students spent two days a week learning how to cook in the Square Food kitchen and one day a week experiencing life as a real chef in some of Bristol’s best kitchens.
Josh, Will, Letisha and Sam all completed the programme with a Level 2 BTec qualification and a Level 2 Food and Hygiene Certificate. They also cooked up a feast for all the food and drink establishments who supported the course at their graduation event.
Before taking part in How To Be A Chef, Letisha admitted that she didn’t even know how to chop an onion. After graduating, both she and Will have both gone on to land roles in professional kitchens, something which would have been unthinkable to them before they took the course.
At the time we were looking to find a more sustainable approach to our social purpose activity. In November 2018, we launched the Better Bristol initiative which includes a public and business membership. This membership helps fund social and environmental projects.
Past and present students from the Young Chefs programme cooked the food at the Better Bristol launch event for more than 350 people at the Colston Hall.
With the support from our new members, along with additional external funding, Bristol24/7 and Square Food Foundation were able to move forward with another 12 week How To Be A Chef course in the Spring of 2019.
Three young chefs completed their 12 week course in July 2019 and catered for Brstol24/7’s sell out Better Bristol celebration event at Bambalan. They provided a wide range of Indian street food for over 400 people.
Two of the chefs from this cohort have gone on to work in professional kitchens as a result of the course.
In September the second How To Be A Chef course of the year launched with seven aspiring chefs starting the process.
Helping to address the huge opportunities gap that exists in Bristol, inspiring young people and helping them achieve their career aspiration has always been important to Bristol24/7.
This project has helped us understand the difficulties involved in engaging those people who need support the most. Recruitment and retention has been very challenging with a project aimed at young people who are not in education or employment.
We have also learnt about some of the obstacles that play a part in finding and keeping the students engaged including transport and the perceptions they may have of the industry and of areas of Bristol with which they may not be familiar.
But we’ve also found that the will to support these projects is there. We have had enormous support from across the food and drink industry; and by collaborating with the right organisations we can deliver programmes that can have a real and direct impact on people’s lives.
We are anticipating that How To Be A Chef can be a course we can run twice a year into the future and we are hopeful that there’ll be some more eager young chefs appearing in Bristol over the next few years.
We’re also working towards creating similar projects in different sectors.
The Better Bristol initiative is a collaborative approach to creating positive impact in the city. Through projects like this one we can help create opportunities and improve people’s lives.
Main photo: Imogen Waite from Season & Taste with one of the first cohorts of Young Chefs
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