Chef de Partie Apprentice Michael Wilkinson saw his exceptional hard work and professionalism rewarded when he received the Apprentice of the Year award at this year’s Stratford-upon-Avon College Student Awards ceremony.
Due to the constraints of lockdown, the College this year held a virtual ceremony, with staff and students going on-line to watch the event and discover who had won the various awards in categories that spanned the curriculum.
But Michael, from Shipton-on-Stour, did not always plan to enter the catering industry. It was while completing a Law degree that he realised his interests lay elsewhere, specifically in cooking, and he decided to look around for ways to gain experience in a professional kitchen. He found the opportunity at The Churchill Arms in Paxford where he was offered an apprenticeship by proprietor and Head Chef Nick Deverell-Smith, and he quickly knew he had made the right decision.
Astonished that he won the Apprentice of the Year award from the College, Michael modestly acknowledged the part he believes others played in his success: “I’ve never really won any awards before! I’m very grateful to the Catering department for being so patient with me, and to Nick for giving me a shot at starting my career. I feel very lucky to have ended up here.”
Michael’s college apprenticeship assessor, Jim Cunningham, is certain that Michael is a well-deserving winner: “Michael has progressed on so many levels in both his apprenticeship and his employment. His value and importance to The Churchill Arms is evident in his involvement in the business’s menu planning and stock control, and he has even mentored junior members of the team.”
Michael sees working as a chef to be about more than simply preparing meals, and feels that he has the opportunity to really enhance people’s lives. “I think the importance of good food can sometimes be forgotten, both in terms of its effect on our quality of life and the way it brings people together.”
While working at The Churchill Arms, Michael has taken on a wide range of responsibilities including catering for weddings and large parties and helping to prepare for the restaurant’s participation in Tom Kerridge’s Pub in the Park events.
Nick Deverell-Smith has seen Michael’s professional expertise go from strength to strength. “It’s been a pleasure working with Michael, and he’s great example of the benefits of getting involved in apprenticeship schemes. To bring in young people with potential and help them to grow is an important part of running a successful business. I’m really pleased for Michael, who has earned this award through hard work and commitment.”
Thinking about his future, Michael is determined to broaden his culinary skills by working internationally. “I can only ever learn so much in one place, and I want to make the most of the early stages of my career by working in different settings and learning about new techniques and cuisines.”
Asked if he would recommend an apprenticeship to someone considering entry to the catering industry, Michael doesn’t hesitate: “In my opinion, an apprenticeship is the ideal way to help choose a career and to prepare for that work environment. It provides the opportunity to both learn and earn, and to grow both personally and professionally.”