With the Country Range Student Chef Challenge back in 2022, we spoke to Robbie Phillips, twice winning lecturer from City of Glasgow College, ahead of the official launch in September.

How was the last 18 months different from previous years in your role?

“My last year and a bit has pretty much been the polar opposite of normal years. We would usually compete in two or three of the major cookery competitions with the Country Range Student Chef Challenge being the biggest. Then we would have a few smaller regional competitions and then off-shoots where students may compete on their own. My role would very much be preparing and training the competitors so they were ready, as well as organising all the logistics. Last year, the number of competitions we entered dropped significantly so the students missed out on a central part of our hospitality learning experience.”

What does a lack of competitions mean for your students? 

“It has definitely left a gap in their learning and certainly some of the students who had great potential were devastated not to be able to compete. For many, it’s not easy to enter competitions once they leave college so they are an unbelievable platform for them to push themselves, learn, experience real pressure and ultimately be successful. There was a sense that some of them missed their last opportunity to compete, to win and gain plaudits which was a real shame.”   

Do you think the pandemic will have put people off a career in hospitality? 

“At the beginning when it was very uncertain, there was definitely a sense that perhaps the draw of hospitality – that you could always get a job, that you could work anywhere in the world, anytime you want – was starting to be threatened. There was undoubtedly a different kind of tone or feeling.  Some students needing reassuring that they had made the right choice in their course selection. It was probably the same in hundreds of other careers as well.”

Is this still the case?

“In the last few months, the situation has changed drastically and we have been inundated with employers looking for staff. In fact, we have never seen anything like this before and it’s been difficult to keep up with it. We’re literally getting three companies a day looking to fill roles across t

heir hospitality businesses, whether front of house, chefs or other roles. With shortages being mentioned in the media and hospitality open again, I think the industry is once again looking extremely attractive.”

How is the enthusiasm of the students? 

“Whatever negative feeling there was around COVID and hospitality is definitely gone and we’re seeing a fantastic appetite from our students to get back in the kitchen, to push themselves and earn a fantastic role in the industry. For many of our students who love being in the kitchen and creating, the last 12 months has been tough so they are definitely making up for it now.”

What did students miss the most?

“Not having that contact on the day-to-day basis with lecturers, fellow students and peers, plus not being able to get into the kitchen as much, has definitely made it more challenging for students. The Country Range Student Chef Challenge for example is a team challenge so building these teamwork skills is obviously difficult when people are having to work from home or are working in restricted kitchens.”

What else do the competitions offer that students have missed out on?

“The competitions aren’t just about competing – they’re an all-round fantastic experience for the students. Many of our students have never been to London so travelling down to the final, staying in hotels, seeing different cultures and cooking in front of a live audience is where magical memories are made.”

Will you be looking at competitions again in the coming school year? 

“Whether it’s the lecturers or the students, I think we’re all pretty desperate and excited to be competing again. In addition to being a lot of hard work, it’s also incredible fun. We still have quite strict restrictions at college and travel may still be a bit challenging this year so we’re going to have to wait and see with regards to finalising everything but we’re certainly eying up 2022 and keeping our fingers crossed.”