News that the National Apprenticeship Scheme is already over-subscribed caught my eye. As a former stagiaire, I applaud any scheme which makes it easier for young people to enter the industry. However, the cynic in me does question whether these schemes are a way for the government to massage unemployment figures or another short-term, ‘high profile scheme’ to make them look progressive.
I am lucky that as a stagiaire, I was trained by a ‘master’ - a chef who had himself undertaken a comprehensive apprenticeship scheme and had subsequently trained and qualified to develop upcoming chefs. This training covered all the elements of cooking and meant that those undertaking the course would graduate with a good grasp of the craft and qualified to enter into any sector of the industry.
Apart from the apparent shortage, one of my main concerns about modern apprenticeship schemes is that they only give chefs a limited taste of the profession. Regardless of the industry, the introduction of NVQs did away with the structure and substance needed to give young people a proper grounding in their chosen career. As a result, we have lost at least one generation of Masters and the legacy is a lack of quality control and further generations of inadequately trained apprentices.
In this country we are lucky to have the likes of Chris Galvin, Brian Turner, John Williams and Steven Doherty who have trained with the best and who are sharing their know-how with up and coming talent. However, there are many chefs now who have climbed up the ranks without gaining experience in the different elements of cooking and without being exposed to structured training. Talented as these chefs are, I question whether they can deliver the same experience and mentorship as we received from the masters many years ago.
I feel strongly about the importance of apprenticeships and believe that a good chef is a craftsman of the culinary arts. Like many chefs of my generation, many whom like me are Academicians, I want to make sure that this craft is properly taught to generations to come. Call me old fashioned, but I do hope that after our generation, the true craft does not die out.