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Sir John Fitzgerald chef school training a top class team

Sir John Fitzgerald chain has six Great Food Pubs across the region and are looking for the next generation of chefs

Dame Allan's students Fiona Mansfield and Rafchana Khanam with the regional head chefs from Sir John Fitzgerald
Dame Allan's students Fiona Mansfield and Rafchana Khanam with the regional head chefs from Sir John Fitgerald

You would be hard pushed to find a Tyneside foodie who hasn’t heard of star chef and restauranteur Terry Laybourne.

But what about Adrian Watson?

Once Mr Laybourne’s right hand man, for the past 14 years Adrian has been leading a merry band of chefs at the six pubs falling under the umbrella of Sir John Fitzgerald’s Great Food Pub brand alongside the Cafe Royal in Newcastle.

That job has seen him try to elevate pub food to restaurant quality fare with locally-sourced produce from suppliers such as Carroll’s Heritage Potatoes in Northumberland.

The menu contains duck cottage pie, Moroccan spiced lamb and pan fried sea bass and that’s before you mention the homemade desserts made on-site at Café Royal’s basement bakery.

Recently promoted to food business development manager for front and back of house across the chain, Adrian stages monthly chef schools to give the company’s chefs a chance to try out new recipes and dishes before they’re launched onto the public.

 

It is here Adrian has helped hone the skills of kitchen staff from kitchen porters through to commis chefs who want a chance at the top job.

Adrian, who designed the £500,000 bakery, said: “Chef school is about keeping that camaraderie, sharing ideas and skills and keeping the chefs inspired and invigorated. I want to use my knowledge and experience of Michelin stars with the teams here and put SJF on the map food wise.

“Staff are invited to come to these events, those that are showing promise, it is like our very own catering college. We are pushing the boundaries with our teams. You have all of the head chefs in the one kitchen sharing ideas and skills.

“Michael Ord joined the Ridley Arms 14 years ago as a kitchen porter and now is the head chef. He was given the opportunity and worked hard, learning new skills and now has the top job.

“For me that is the success story, that we are able to help people who get their foot in the door as kitchen porters and then work their way up.”

Working under Michael at the Ridley Arms in Stannington as chef de partie is 21-year-old Tom Davison, from Stakeford, who joined as a kitchen porter three years ago.

Tom, who has just been named the company’s chef of the year, said: “As a teenager I worked as a pizza chef before training and working as an engineer. But I was laid off and a friend mentioned there was a job going at the Ridley Arms as a kitchen porter.

“I did that role for just over a year but always knew I wanted to train as a chef and saw it as a foot in the door.”

 

Getting a taste for the buzz and heat in the technologically advanced £2.5m kitchen at the Pavilion in Backworth, complete with the first Josper charcoal grill to be purchased on Tyneside, were Dame Allan School pupils Rafchana Khanam and Fiona Mansfield, both from Newcastle.

The 17-year-olds, both with a penchant for baking, found themselves learning alongside the SJF chefs after winning their school’s employability award.

Fiona, who helped fund an overseas trip costing £3,500 by selling homemade cakes, said: “It was so exciting to be in a working kitchen and see what went on. I love cooking and am keeping my options open about what I want to do in the future and trying to get as much work experience as possible.

“The chefs were all really helpful and it was great to be behind the scenes. I’m studying languages and would love to own my own cake shop in France.”

A visit to Cafe Royal in the city centre saw the girls further their thirst for baking, under the watchful eye of head chef Cevat Robert Elat. Here they made chocolate cake pops for the cafe’s intricate afternoon tea featuring mini quiches, smoked mackerel, horseradish mascarpone and beetroot sandwiches and tonka bean pannacotta.

A hub of activity, the bakery below stairs only opened two years ago after it moved in-house from its Kingston Park location.

Staff regularly start their shift at 3am making bread and pastries for that day’s breakfast rush at the cafe before starting on baking the desserts to be sent out to other Sir John Fitzgerald establishments across the region.

Development chef Darren James Lowton said: “It got to the point where the Kingston Park bakery got so big it was having customers of its own.

“Now everything comes from the cafe, the toast, croissants, cakes, puddings for the menus, everything.

“We added afternoon teas to the menu last year and it features everything from Battenberg to cake pops. There is a real trend at the moment for retro cakes such as Battenberg and Victoria Sponge but our best seller is sticky toffee pudding.”

Having tried and tested their recipe ideas Adrian and his team are now busy perfecting the dishes before revealing them onto the menu next month.

For more information about Chef School and the Great Food Pubs visit www.sjf.co.uk .

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