Apprenticeship gives Ballymena man opportunity to cook up a storm

Shauna Loughran


Shauna Loughran

BALLYMENA man James Blair is loving life in a busy kitchen as he embarks on his apprenticeship at Galgorm Resort & Spa Hotel and Northern Regional College.

James is 18 years old and is a professional cookery apprentice at the Galgorm Resort & Spa Hotel and Northern Regional College.

James was studying for his A-Levels in Nutrition and Food Science, Life and Health Sciences and Applied ITC at Cambridge House Grammar School when he had the opportunity to take up work experience in Antrim’s Ramble Inn.

For James – who had always dreamed of being a chef – his time in the Inn’s kitchens led to the realisation that his passion could be his full-time career. When he found out about the apprenticeships with Northern Regional College and the Galgorm Resort & Spa, he jumped at the chance.

He said: “I love the creativity that comes with being a chef, you get to make people happy with your food.

“So when I was given the chance to learn more and get hands-on experience in the kitchens of one of the biggest players in Northern Ireland’s hospitality sector I just couldn’t pass up that opportunity. It was a no-brainer for me!”

James decided to leave school after his AS-Levels and hasn’t looked back since: “I really enjoyed school and I had thought that afterwards I would maybe go on to catering college. However, this apprenticeship is a chance to get experience in the industry and offers me an immediate route into the career I love – why would I put that off for another year?”

What does a typical day at the work look like for James? At the moment, he has an enviable position looking after the restaurant’s delectable range of desserts. This means weighing out and prepping ingredients, plating up panna cotta, sticky toffee pudding and cheesecake and making sure the Galgorm’s fridges never run low of sweet treats.

If you’re lucky enough to be on campus on a Wednesday, you might even get to sample some of James’ cooking. He and his colleagues spend their morning whipping up meals and being assessed on their abilities. Their top-class cooking is served up to hungry staff and students in the canteen. The afternoon is spent familiarising themselves with the extensive health and safety rules which every chef must know.

When asked why he chose the apprenticeship route James says that for him it was the obvious choice:

“With the apprenticeship you get to earn while you learn, and you have no student loans to worry about paying back at the end.”

But most importantly, it’s the hands-on experience he has received throughout his training which James claims is most valuable.

“You can read in a text-book that a professional kitchen is a high-pressure environment, but unless you’ve been in there at peak dinner-serving time, you can’t truly understand it.”

James says he would “most definitely” recommend the apprenticeship scheme to someone else: “If you want to go into the hospitality sector, I honestly think it’s the smartest career move you can make.”

And his advice to them?

“Just go for it! You have nothing to lose and so much to gain!”

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