From education to employment

Food for thought – how FE catering teachers and trainers keep up to date

Toni Fazaeli is the chief executive of the Institute for Learning (IfL)

Although sous vide cooking was first introduced in France in the 1970s, the technique was not in mainstream use 20 years ago when Paul Leary trained as a chef at Southfields College, now part of Leicester College. In those days, he says, you had a book called Practical cookery, from which you had to cook. You were not allowed to vary the ingredients or methods.

Things are very different nowadays, according to Paul; there is far more scope for experimenting and trying out new flavours and techniques. He says that it is a pleasure to return to the college from his restaurant as guest chef to teach students, and exchange practice with teachers as part of keeping up to date with industry, supporting their continuing professional development (CPD).

The literal translation for “sous vide” is “under vacuum”, and describes a method of cooking food (especially meat, poultry and fish) in vacuum-sealed pouches in a water bath at very precise temperatures, much lower temperatures than in a conventional oven. Sous vide cooking is now commonplace in professional kitchens, including Paul’s renowned restaurant, The Woodhouse in Woodhouse Eaves, Leicester, so catering teachers and trainers need to be up to date in this method.

Ian Bremner, who had worked in catering for 18 years before starting to teach, first saw a water bath in action two-and-a-half years ago. He found it very helpful for his CPD to visit The Woodhouse to see how Paul and his team were using sous vide in the restaurant kitchen, and to ensure that learners understand thoroughly the health and safety issues involved in cooking at low temperatures in a near-anaerobic environment – the goal is to maximise taste and retain nutrients whilst minimising the risk of food pathogens.

Employers expect that students have good knowledge about these cookery techniques; it makes their lives easier. So, teachers and trainers have to be in touch with the latest practices. Students and lecturers can also exchange practice, which gives even more CPD – a win-win situation for the employer and the teachers.

Paul recognises the importance to his restaurant business of staying ahead of the game too. His own professional development models what teachers can do, including going out to good restaurants to see what they do and what they put on the plate; reading books and catering magazines; and seeing demonstrations of new equipment to assess whether it is cost-effective and if the end product is any better than using traditional methods.

Like professional teachers and trainers, networking with fellow members of his professional association gives opportunities to share ideas about new techniques. Since he took over The Woodhouse five-and-a-half years ago, Paul and his chefs have won an array of awards, including Student Chef of the Year and the Gordon Ramsay Scholarship.

Even though Ian joined the college with 18 years’ experience in the industry, he cannot fulfil employers’ expectations to recruit good all-round learners unless he stays up to date with the latest in industry through his CPD. To get work in a real restaurant, students have to learn to work at great speed, to order. For his CPD, Ian does service part-time, to help stay on top of his game – there is a lot of pressure involved in doing service for 100 covers.

Aaron Latham, also a trainer assessor at Leicester College, keeps up to date through CPD, which has led to teaching about lighter, cleaner and simpler dishes using local, flavoursome produce, as well as fine dining. He is adamant about the importance of teachers staying up to date with the latest trends and cooking techniques, so that learners are well-prepared for the competitive world of catering. He works at a Michelin-starred restaurant and caters for country house weddings to keep abreast with new techniques, which he is keen to pass on to his learners.

Nowadays, customers’ expectations of restaurants are phenomenal; people are becoming far more discerning about food. One trend is that more and more people are requesting glutenfree meals, often outnumbering vegetarians. As part of their CPD, Ian and Aaron attended a gluten-free masterclass in London, where they learned to make a wide range of gluten-free recipes. Back at the college, they drew on this CPD for teaching their learners.

All three are passionate about staying up to date in their vocational area, and Paul says that if you are not passionate you should not be in the trade. Sharing knowledge, researching and experimenting is all part of their quest to develop as professionals and be the very best they can for their learners.

As the independent professional body for teachers and trainers throughout the further education and skills sector, the Institute for Learning (IfL) has an important role to play in helping teachers and trainers stay up to date in their discipline and improve the standard of teaching and learning, and is committed to supporting members’ CPD. Teachers and trainers are required to undertake at least 30 hours of CPD a year if they are full-time, or pro rata if they are part-time, and our latest review of CPD undertaken in 2009-10 shows that most members are carrying out double the minimum number of hours of CPD required, and with a balance of updating their subject or vocational area, and the latest teaching methods.

Last year, more teachers shared their CPD: 64 per cent of teachers and trainers said they shared their CPD with a colleague, compared to 44 per cent the previous year; and 67 per cent said they shared their CPD with their employer, compared to 46 per cent previously. Our members’ engagement in professional development and staying up to date in their subject or vocational area, as well as in teaching methods, demonstrates their dual professionalism and their commitment to providing the best possible learning experiences for their learners.

I am delighted that Paul, Ian and Ian have agreed to share their CPD with fellow members of IfL, their professional body. Whatever your subject or vocational area, I think you will find the short film interesting, and an excellent example of dual professionalism in action. The video is just over eight minutes long, and you can view it here.

A few other catering teachers who had a sneak preview of the video recommend it. The film has been produced so that individual catering teachers or trainers across the country can watch it by themselves, at any hour, from the IfL website, and can also be used in team meetings.

My thanks go to Leicester College and to Paul Leary, Ian Bremner, Aaron Latham and the catering and hospitality learners who feature in the video. I hope you enjoy watching it, and that it sparks ideas for your own CPD.

Toni Fazaeli is the chief executive of the Institute for Learning (IfL), the professional body for teachers, trainers, tutors and student teachers across the further education and skills sector


Read other FE News articles by Toni Fazaeli:

The Importance of Teaching is a perfect title

Spending review blues

Beyond measure – the long arm of further education

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