Meet The Lecturer

Ahead of the finals in March, we chatted to some of the successful lecturers whose teams have made it through to find out what competitions mean to them and their tips and tricks for success.  

Hayley McCook – City of Glasgow College

How are you feeling about making the grand final?

“I’m really proud of the team. They have worked so hard developing this menu so we’re all over the moon on them making the final and having the opportunity to experience a live cook-off.”

How are the students feeling?

“Since COVID-19 struck, most of the competitions have had to stop so they have been sorely missed by our students. Many just haven’t had the opportunity to compete in a challenge of this scale before so it’s completely new to them and they’re very excited to be able to showcase their skills.” 

Is it your first time tutoring a team in the Student Chef Challenge?

“It’s my very first time actually tutoring and training a team for any competition so it’s been a lot of fun. I actually took part in the Student Chef Challenge in 2017 so it’s amazing to come full circle and be able to pass on my knowledge and experience. My team in 2017 actually got knocked out in the semi-finals so I have to say there has been added incentive to help my team succeed. It’s fab they have already gone one better than me.”

Have you enjoyed it from the lecturer side of things?

“It’s definitely been a different experience this time around being on the tutoring side. It’s been very enjoyable being able to pass on tips and advice that you only learn by competing. It’s been useful being able to talk them through my experiences, my mistakes, how to plan and also work closely with them on how to create dishes and menus.”

What is a special part of the learning process in the Student Chef Challenge?

“Often on the college courses you’re told what to cook so there isn’t loads of time focused on developing and creating dishes. The Student Chef Challenge enables students to be creative and experiment with modern flavours and techniques. I have loved being able to sit down with the team and work with them to design and create the dishes and menus from scratch. Watching the evolution of the dishes as they are tweaked and repeated over and again is very rewarding.”

How did you start the process with your team?

“I first put the feelers out in September to initially see who was interested and from then started to put a wee team together. The next step was simply ordering in a lot of different ingredients linked to the challenge theme. Together as a team we then started to spend time in the kitchen experimenting and researching to ensure the thought was behind the food when it came to sustainable and local ingredients. I also asked the team to think about chefs they liked, admired or who inspired them. The team are going to spend a lot of time practising the menu so it’s vital they are passionate about it. We tried to keep the menu quite classical but with a few modern twists and tweaks.”

How did the practise intensify as the finals got nearer?

“Once we made the final, we started weekly practises and run-throughs every Thursday night. We would set everything up as it would be in the final and then begin timed run-throughs. We would switch up the environment each week, move them around and do anything we could to take them out of their comfort zone as dealing with whatever issues are thrown at you on the day is a big part of succeeding in these competitions. It’s about keeping them on their toes so I will throw a few curve balls at them to keep them thinking on their feet. Things will always go wrong so it’s vital your team can dust themselves down when problems arise, react and keep cooking.”

What do you remember from when you competed in the Challenge?

“We actually didn’t make the final in 2017 which is still one of my big regrets. I think we were possibly trying a bit too hard with our menu that year and the judges didn’t really get the approach.  I think it was a bit too out there and there were a few silly mistakes such as over seasoning, which definitely cost us. I told my team that they’re offering me a chance of redemption.”

What is your role at City of Glasgow College and how did you end up there?

“I’m currently a full-time catering lecturer at City of Glasgow College and I am really enjoying it after being here about a year in a teaching capacity. Prior to that I was at the Balmoral for around 5 or 6 years in the kitchen. I’m really enjoying my time here. It’s so different than being in a normal working kitchen but so rewarding at the same time, especially this work on the competitions.”

What are the key benefits of competitions?

“Competitions offer plenty of benefits to students but I think some of the most important skills they learn are around time-keeping, organisation and planning. Having time-constraints is hyper-realistic to real life in a professional kitchen so competitions definitely open your eyes to this, while also helping you experience real pressure.”

Were you nervous when competing?

“I was always terrified ahead of the live competition cooking. I remember being at ScotHot waiting to cook and just seeing a huge crowd around me. I think I was ready to run away and go home but once you get up there and settled, you almost go into a trance. You block out the crowd and just concentrate on your jobs and what you have practised. It’s just about getting it done and getting through it but after the first, each one is a bit easier.”

“Being a team event, the Country Range Student Chef Challenge is a little easier as you have your team members there with you to rely on and pull you through a bit. The team has been working closely together ahead of the final so having that unit really helps. Competitions on your own can be a bit daunting.”

How do competitions add to you job satisfaction?

“From a lecturing point of view, the competitions can allow us to push the boat out and teach a few more modern trends or look at some different techniques that may not necessarily be on the curriculum. Being able to showcase these techniques and then watch the students grow and improve during the process is very special. I really love to see the progress each week as they make the menu. By the end of it, you don’t even have to coach them as they know their jobs, roles and exactly what they want out of the ingredients.”