Aspiring Chefs Head for the Cliff

The newly-branded Cliff, formerly the Cliff Collection, is so passionate about addressing the chef shortages in Ireland it has set up its own in-house course for school leavers. Maev Martin talks to GM Adriaan Bartels, tutor Martin Potts, and Executive Chef Martijin Kajuiter, about this unique offering.

Adriaan says that Cliff established the in-house training programme after experiencing the recruitment problem first hand and then trying to set up an internal programme with other chefs and Michelin rated restaurants. “This did not work out so we used the network of Relais et Chateaux hotels in Ireland as a basis for setting up a chef training programme between the members,” he says. “During this process we met Martin Potts and Patrick Flanagan from Synergy ProChef and we put together the bones of the programme. The programme required a base to do the training from and, after the purchase of the Village at Lyons, now known as Cliff at Lyons, which already contained a cookery school facility for leisure guests and corporate team building, Cliff were able to put the plan into action, following its approval by City and Guilds.”

The Cliff at Lyons in Celbridge is now enrolling for City & Guilds certified professional cookery courses for 2017. Commencing Monday, January 30th, the Cliff Academy courses are suitable for school leavers with a passion for the culinary arts, amateur chefs, and those who are already working in the hospitality industry. With only 12 places on offer, the City & Guilds Level 2 Diploma in Food Preparation and Cooking (Culinary Arts) is designed to be hands on. Successful graduates will be well positioned for working in commerical kitchens on completion. Led by Martin Potts and Patrick Flanagan of Synergy ProChef, the 20-week course fees are 45,950 and materials supplied include uniform, workbooks and knife set. This is a non-residential course. The curriculum for year one will include food preparation across a wide range of produce, including fish and shellfish, meat, poultry, offal, fruits, pulses, baked good and desserts. It also includes food safety, safe work practices and catering operations, as well as budgets and menu planning. Healthier foods, food nutrition and special diets will also be covered. Term 1 commences on January 30th and runs Monday through Wednesday,  9am to 5pm, until June, with a two-week work placement at a five-star hotel property.

Students can also apply for a second year of schooling, commencing September 2017. Year 2 will offer a City & Guilds Level 2 Diploma in Food Preparation and Cooking (Patisserie), as well as a City & Guilds Level 3 Advanced Diploma in Food Preparation and Cookery Supervision. The courses will cover gastronomy, international cuisines and global trends, as well as kitchen and staff supervision, resource management, budgets, planning, and food production. Further advanced courses will start in late 2017.

Is the training on offer at the Cliff at Lyons an exact replica of the City & Guilds courses available in Institutes of Technology or does it differ from those programmes in any way? “The City and Guilds courses are designed to allow people to earn and learn concurrently, so at Cliff we are running the courses over three intensive days to allow for the industry to train as well as work,” says Adriaan. “The Advanced Diploma in the second year is designed to be run as part of the workplace in order to make the training as real as possible for students. The international course offerings are slightly different to the English model but the first year sits in line with QQI Level 5, while the second year Advanced Pastry and Advanced Diploma are benchmarked at QQI Level 6.”

…there are no adequate training programmes for those who want to work at the craft level…the old cert courses that used to train staff in hotels that were closed for the winter should be re-introduced, as this programme worked well in the past.

The culinary courses at the Cliff Academy are being led by tutors Chef Martin Potts and Patrick Flanagan of Synergy ProChef, which was set up in 2014 to deliver training programmes and chef consultancy to the Irish hospitality industry. “With over 50 years international culinary experience between them and 20 years teaching experience in Ireland, Australia, England and the US, Martin and Patrick are the go to guys in the Irish market when it comes to hospitality training,” says Adriaan. “Synergy Prochef was introduced to the Cliff through Martin’s connections with Fáilte Ireland where he worked for six years as part of the industry training division, delivering culinary training programmes across Ireland.”

A full programme of masterclasses delivered by Cliff chefs will also be launched in the coming weeks. The first masterclass, ‘A Taste of the House Restaurant,’ will be delivered by Cliff Executive Chef Martijn Kajuiter and takes place on January 21st 2017. In fact, Cliff is no stranger to innovation when it comes to training their staff. Hotel & Catering Review featured a story in 2015 on their unique on-the-job training programme, which is run by Adriaan Bartels in the Cliff House Hotel in Dublin. The highly successful Max programme is an online staff self assessment programme that integrates a human resource function with e-learning, communication, guest satisfaction, idea generation and performance appraisal. What is Adriaan’s view of the current state of the training available for new entrants to the industry? “I think what Ireland offers is excellent in most parts for addressing the management of the industry but there are no adequate training programmes and facilities for those that want to work at the craft level, such as waiting staff, barmen, sommeliers etc,” he says. “The old CERT courses that used to train staff in hotels that were closed for the winter should be re-introduced, as this programme worked well in the past.”

Of course, Fáilte Ireland (formerly CERT) has introduced a new apprenticeship programme, developed in conjunction with a number of other industry bodies. Martijn Kajuiter, the Cliff’s Executive Chef at the Michelin Star House restaurant, says that “unfortunately, I do not have any experience of this programme yet as it is still in the early stages so it is difficult to comment on it. However, in my experience,  chefs with even basic cooking skills are in short supply, so that is why a course such as that offered by the Cliff Academy is critical to plugging this gap. It targets this shortage directly.” Cliff Academy chef and tutor Martin Potts believes that the introduction of this in-house culinary training programme at the Cliff at Lyons may inspire other hotels to do the same, but he stresses that they will need to have the proper facilities, otherwise it won’t work. “It is our goal for our industry colleagues to see Cliff Academy as the place to send their aspiring chefs to get accreditation or to upskill,” he says. “We all need to pull together as an industry and support programmes like this, so that more chefs can be trained, and thereby alleviate the shortages that currently exist.”