Two leading lights of the local catering industry have praised Harrogate College for helping them launch their careers ahead of National Apprenticeship Week.
Chef Callum Bowmer and restaurant and hotel general manager Neil Mendoza have both gone on to great things since training with the college.
Neil Mendoza, who studied management and hospitality courses from 2008 to 2010, went on to fill several senior positions for celebrity chef Marcus Wareing’s restaurants, including MARCUS at The Berkeley Hotel in London.
Neil is now back in Harrogate where he is general manager at The Studley Hotel and Orchid Restaurant.
Callum, meanwhile, who was named Chef of the Year at the Harrogate Hospitality and Tourism Awards 2022, did an apprenticeship with the college in 2011. He is now head chef of the 3AA Rosette Horto Restaurant, at Rudding Park.
Both agree that their time at college provided a crucial, and rewarding, route into the industry.
A fantastic experience with great tutors
Neil said: “It was a fantastic experience as it allowed me to learn more about the sector and led me to exactly where I am today.
“I was already working part-time in a restaurant where my dad was a chef. The course made me understand the industry much better and helped me decide that this is the career I’d like to pursue.”
Callum said: “My time at college was fun, progressive and useful. I had two great tutors in Mark Wilkinson, who’s no longer with the college, and Karina Dodsworth.
“I believe I showed passion and respect so they invested their time in me. I did day-release and had a session with Mark where we covered all the skills we needed, from butchery to pastry.
“I even remember going to London with a small team to do a sushi demonstration at Excel Arena, at a WorldSkills competition, which was fantastic. A sushi chef had come to train us months beforehand, and gave us the skills we needed.”
The college’s hospitality team has been working hard over the past few years to strengthen its support for local businesses. Those efforts have included reaching out, through the Harrogate College Employers’ Network, to find out exactly what skills firms need.
They were also pleased to welcome Neil in 2022, when he came in to college to deliver an inspirational talk to students.
Targeted help for the local industry
The hospitality sector was one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, due to repeated lockdowns which shook consumer confidence and led to the loss of many skilled employees.
Harrogate College’s Cultural, contemporary and heritage studies programme manager, Jason Parry, said: “The fantastic success of former students like Callum and Neil is an inspiration to us all, and shows what can be achieved. We are delighted to have played a part in that success.
“We have been working closely with many local hospitality businesses over the past few years as part of our efforts to help the district recover from Covid-19.
“That work has included talking directly to employers about what they need from new employees and then customising our training to ensure it delivers.
“Our themed dining nights have also been part of that, and have given our students some invaluable experience of working in a fast-paced restaurant. We have also been taking them on fact-finding trips, to places like Rudding Park, to show them best-practice and to help them gain an understanding of how businesses operate.
“It is all about ensuring that they leave here with a skillset that will prove invaluable to our local hotels, restaurants, cafes and bars – and so enable them to thrive in the industry.”
The value of apprenticeships, hard work and patience
Neil and Callum, meanwhile, are happy to share some tips with aspiring hospitality professionals. Callum said: “You have to be happy in your work, so for me being a chef is great because that’s what I love to do.
“I would definitely recommend considering an apprenticeship, as you will learn so much more with the combination of a good workplace and a great college course. Also, question everything and if you don’t know something, ask – there’s no such thing as a silly question.
“It’s also vital to demonstrate a great work ethic; be on time, be eager, be passionate, be driven, be clean and work hard. Good luck!”
Neil added: “I am loving every bit of my current role, especially because I am also now back in Harrogate after living and working in London for a decade to elevate my career.
“To all the aspiring young chefs, waiters and other hospitality professionals, I would say: focus on the positives and learn from your mistakes, as this will define who you are in the industry and only make you better.
“It may be a long journey to where you want to be, but patience is key and working hard will get you there.”