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Spotlight on: Jamie Cunningham, Apprentice chef

Jamie Cunningham works at River Cottage Canteen and Deli in Plymouth as a Young Chef Apprentice. With a passion for food and a yearning to get into the kitchen, he was keen to find a training provider to further his skills and start a worthwhile career.

Quick Q&A with Jamie

What were you doing before you started your apprenticeship?

I was at Eggbuckland Comminity College in Plymouth doing my GCSEs. I specialised in catering, history and sport. I always excelled in food at school, so I knew I wanted to concentrate on catering afterwards.

How did you find out about the apprenticeship scheme?

I first heard about the scheme through my school, but it was only after my mum’s friend emailed the link over to me that I took it seriously. Once I looked into it, signing up definitely wasn’t a hard decision to make. I didn’t have any concerns at all. I was intrigued by the course, and excited about the next step. Even the journey from Plymouth twice a month didn’t faze me at all; the travel is all part of the apprenticeship, which I found exciting!

What is your life like now?

My life has changed dramatically from being a normal school boy to working 30 hours a week in the kitchen; it’s been a bit of a culture shock! But I learn best when I’m doing practical jobs; I always need to be busy and be on my feet, with something to keep me focussed. That’s when I’m at my happiest and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve adapted to this busy lifestyle; you learn to live with it and find a way to make time.

Looking back, are you glad you chose to do an apprenticeship instead of going into college and university?

It was hard at first to see my friends out on holiday because they had freedom during college holidays. But my decision to work straight away has definitely paid off.

I’d recommend an apprenticeship to anyone. It gives you the chance to earn money and gives you better employment skills anyway. Whereas if you went to university there’s no guarantee that you’ll walk straight into a job afterwards. I started earning right from the very start, so haven’t spent years racking up debt in college or university.

What’s your role in the Plymouth River Cottage Canteen & Deli?

I’m mostly on starters, but occasionally on main course fish. We all rotate sections so we can build up experience across the kitchen.

We’ve been busy launching a new menu, as all of our River Cottage Canteens are changing their food offering for more of a British tapas style. So we have to adapt quickly to a new layout of food. It’s exciting as we’re all learning as we go.

What’s been your highlight of the course so far?

Completing my Professional Cookery Level 2 and finally graduating is without a doubt the highlight of my year on the course. It was so rewarding to finally get my first qualification as a chef. The year hasn’t been plain sailing, but far more up-sides than down-sides. Having said that, I’ve decided to continue at River Cottage and get the Level 3 qualification under my belt, as it’s always better to have further qualifications - it makes you more employable. I want to go into fine dining eventually and Michelin starred chefs are far more likely to look at me because I’m more employable than anyone else.

What do you enjoy most about the role?

I’m constantly learning, which is something I love. Every day is a learning day in a kitchen. The menu is constantly changing with the seasons, which means we’ll be using a new variety of produce and employing different cookery techniques. I think people expect to try something out of the ordinary at River Cottage – classics with a twist.

I also love working with other people – we have a great team here. I always find that the better the team, the faster the day goes. Everyone gets on – probably because the enjoy what they do, so there’s a great atmosphere.

Who is your greatest role model?

There are so man top chefs that I look up to and would love to work for. Heston Blumenthal is inspiring because he’s so experimental and is pushing the boundaries in this industry.

How would your friends describe you?

I don’t really know. I’m a happy person and my closest friends would say I’m hard working… I think!