Spotlight on: Eype's Mouth Country Hotel and their apprentices
Set in the small Dorset village of Eype, near Bridport, Eype's Mouth Country Hotel is a family run 17 bedroom hotel. Owners Kevin and Glenis French have decades of experience in the hospitality industry and have two apprentices through River Cottage - Toby Oborn and Louise Zajac.
Kevin and Glenis French have a clear vision for Eype's Mouth Country Hotel to be a holiday destination, where staff love to work and guests love to visit. This involves putting learning and development at the heart of their activity.
Kevin explains that continual training ensures they meet their high standards, which both defines and drives the business forwards. These high standards are carried across everything they do, from the cleanliness to the service. They want to surpass expectations and go the extra mile for their guests. And of course that means using locally sourced food and making the very best of it.
Food is a key part of the experience at the hotel. Kevin and Glenis say it’s their own passion for food that means that they would never ‘settle’ for anything other than a brilliant dining experience. Kevin says, "We’re not chasing accolades. Our greatest reward is to have our guests leave here happy, contented and blown away by the food. That means more to us than anything else. This is our home and if we can invite people in and have them leave absolutely delighted, then we’re very happy. It’s our honest approach that helps us sleep soundly at night.”
Kevin partly attributes the success of the restaurant to the great produce on his doorstep. “Our guests want to taste food from this region, so our team only use meat from Dorset, sustainable fish from this coastline (we get first dibs before it gets driven up to London!) dairy from the West Country.” It certainly helps that Head Chef Mark Coombes is extremely passionate about local food and only cooks seasonal produce. Mark says, “We grow plenty of fruit and vegetables right here at the hotel on our allotment. We harvest herbs, cucumbers, salad leaves, chillies and even go out foraging in the hedgerows for blackberries and wild garlic.”
Mark is responsible for managing two apprentice chefs – Toby and Louise. “There needs to be a good balance between being their friend, and being a boss. It’s fine to joke and laugh, but to be able to instruct when necessary. In a busy kitchen, team work is everything – that’s why it’s a great feeling shaking hands at the end of the shift and knowing you’ve been through it together.”
Mark says that training up apprentice chefs makes perfect sense, “It’s an investment in the future, which ensures that we get a skilled, dedicated team. Sometimes it’s tough. But nothing makes me more proud than seeing Toby and Louise develop over the months and use their initiative in the kitchen.”
Toby Oborn was 16 and straight from school when he applied to join River Cottage’s Apprenticeship Scheme. “I’m so pleased I was placed at Eypes Hotel. I’m happy here. The team are all incredibly supportive. I can learn so much from Mark in just one day as he’s an amazing chef with bags of experience.” Now studying his second year for a Level 3 Professional Cookery Qualification, he hasn’t looked back, “It’s a lot more in-depth than Level 2, but I’d recommend it to anyone who is serious about becoming a chef – it allows you to be the best chef you can be.”
Toby is grateful that his River Cottage Chef Tutors are different from conventional college teachers, “The fact that my assessors understand the pressures of the kitchen is great. You can trust them because they have experience of being in the kitchen – they know the trade, they’ve got the t-shirt. You really take on board their criticism and want to listen to them. It helps you become better because they know what they’re talking about.”
“I’d urge anyone who loves cooking to go through River Cottage’s programme and get the experience I’ve had. Everyone there is so committed to cooking fresh, ethical food. I love being a chef. It’s my life.”
Louise was also 16 and straight from Woodruffe School in Lyme Regis when she joined the hotel as a Level 2 Professional Cookery apprentice. Louise was less sure of what she wanted to be, but with a love of baking she thought getting a qualification under her belt would be a good place to start. “It’s good to try all areas of cooking, and I’m gaining good transferrable skills from each section of the kitchen. Working in the pastry section is definitely my favourite – especially making bread with our lovely aged sour dough.”
Kevin and Glenis are pleased to give back to the industry that they're so passionate about. “When apprentices come here they are eager and have ideas. We can offer them experience and have a dedicated chef to train them and to develop them in the kitchen. And then they have the opportunity to learn further from River Cottage, where they will learn more about sourcing ingredients, and what organic and sustainable really means. At the end of it, they earn a City & guilds qualification. But more important than that, they have the River Cottage seal of approval, which speaks volumes.
“It’s definitely been a success. Of all the things we’ve done, we’ve now got two very good trainees who could be our Head Chef of tomorrow.”