Inclusion Now 45

The Apprentice Chef

Maxime Soret tells us about his experiences of being an apprentice chef in the House of Commons

23 year old Maxime Soret’s love for food and cooking was inspired by his father’s ability to prepare simple but tasty meals, and by the international cuisine he experienced whilst dining out with his family. Now Maxime’s prestigious two year level 3 professional cooking apprenticeship has given him the opportunity not only to taste, but to turn his hand to preparing signature dishes from around the world for hundreds of hungry MPs as an apprentice chef in the House of Commons’ busy Larder and Terrace kitchens. Maxime explains the variety of dishes he has learnt both whilst working in the kitchens and at college.

“I helped prepare quite a lot of different meals, such as desserts, side dishes, starters and main courses. We do breakfasts and lunches. I prepared a lot of vegetables, and also dough for things like croissants. I also have the opportunity to do fancy things like canapés, skin rabbits, pluck pheasants and fillet fish involving cutting off the head and tail end and filleting it. I also cooked crab bisque that involves killing the crab whilst its moving.”

Working as an apprentice chef is certainly not for the squeamish or for the faint hearted as Maxime says:

“I worked mainly in The Larder, where we also did quite a lot of fancy things like canapés. At the Terrace, next to The Larder, I had to prepare lots of different dishes every day, and sometimes help out other chefs with the main courses needed for upstairs and downstairs. That was a bit too stressful. In The Larder, it was pretty much preparation work, rather than cooking hot meals. I can handle stoves and ovens, just for a little while, but it does get me, the humidity and heat.”

Throughout the placement Maxime found the support he received from his bosses very encouraging and supportive.

“The chefs were happy to help and support me, also the other employees,” he said. “They would show me what they wanted me to do, practically – what I should use to prepare something, where it was stored, where to put the dirty things. There is a routine to do almost every day, every week, which I pretty much got to know how to do, and they would give me a demonstration of any new task.”

During the first year Maxime attended a special awards ceremony to collect a certificate for his outstanding achievements.

One of the requirements of the apprenticeship is that apprentices must receive vocational training that leads onto a recognised professional level 3 qualification. So one day a week Maxime has been attending West Kingsway College where he has completed an NVQ level 3 qualification in Professional Cookery alongside his non-disabled peers. The course has covered all aspects of professional cooking, and the apprentices complete online, practical and work-based assessments. Whilst at college all the apprentices are provided with a laptop where they store their work and complete online assessments.

Maxime, who has Asperger’s syndrome, requires both a working and learning environment that is inclusive of apprentices who behave and learn in different ways from their peers. Maxime prefers a structured environment where there are plenty of opportunities for learning by doing, aided by visual demonstrations when practising and perfecting his professional cooking skills. He is provided with learning support assistance including help with understanding the theory aspects of the course and the assessment arrangements.

“There was quite a lot of theory involved on the health and safety and food hygiene side of catering in the workplace. I had to learn about food hygiene – using the right colour of chopping boards with vegetables, salads, raw meat, cooked meat and dairy products. I had a Learning Support Tutor. She helped me pretty much every week with lessons, with my English skills, and in the cooking assessments. She did not know a lot about cooking but did understand what my mentor said, and what to do. She helped me to understand questions better and what exactly a particular subject had to do with. She helped with assignments, and during cooking assessments, she helped me to go through the instructions that the course tutor gave me.”

Maxime received support not only from his learning support assistant but also from his fellow students as he explains:

“The course tutor was OK but the ones who helped most when I got stuck on the cooking side were the other students.”

After experiencing a variety of work environments during his current and previous level two professional apprenticeship placements, Maxime has a clear idea what type of role he wants to do – he would like to work in a school where there is a regular routine and scheduled breaks.

“I’d like to just continue being a commis chef, able to help with a lot of things – vegetables, pastries, meats etc., work that is interesting but not extremely complicated.”

His apprenticeship has now come to an end and he is currently looking for paid employment elsewhere – he has had a work trial with Harrison’s catering company who had a contract with local schools.

Whilst Maxime’s apprenticeship experience was a positive one, there have been some hiccups along the way. He was not registered for the level 2 functional skills maths exam which he needs in order to gain his full apprenticeship certificate. Maxime’s mother feels that mainstream apprenticeship providers need better knowledge and skills around placing disabled apprentices and providing them with appropriate support. And the local council have been dragging their feet for two years, which has meant that Maxime has not benefitted from physiotherapy, occupational therapy and qualified learning support assistance during the apprenticeship placement, despite a number of successful tribunal appeals. ALLFIE is beginning to address all these issues with ministers.

In the meantime we wish Maxime the best of luck in finding work in the catering industry.

Since the last edition of Inclusion Now, the Government has commissioned Paul Maynard to chair an independent taskforce which will make recommendations on the accessibility of apprenticeships for people with learning difficulties and learning disabilities. We were pleased to read that the Government has accepted the recommendations on making reasonable adjustments around the Maths and English standards and will pilot an apprenticeship programme aimed at people with learning difficulties and learning disabilities. For a full report see our campaigns membership briefing which focuses on apprenticeships.

Simone Aspis