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Feasting on some excellent learning

Nikos Savvas, principal at West Suffolk College ANL-160104-110812001
Nikos Savvas, principal at West Suffolk College ANL-160104-110812001

I don’t watch much television but I have to confess that I am addicted to MasterChef. It has become the highlight of my television watching.

I love food and to see ordinary people create extraordinary dishes. It has captured my imagination and inspired me to try the more modest of culinary adventures at home with various degrees of success. This weekend with the Sunday roast I imposed on my unsuspecting family my interpretation of the Hasselback potatoes. It was a triumph the second time round (I did the first batch on Saturday and the “critics” were not that impressed!). For those that don’t know what a Hasselback potato is, please don’t be fooled by the name - it doesn’t require any skill to cook it - just a different way of thinking.

I am very lucky to work in an organisation that has an outstanding culinary academy (Edmunds) that trains professional chefs of MasterChef calibre. One of the perks of the job is that I have to visit our professional restaurant on a regular basis to sample the work our students are producing and I have to say I feel spoilt rotten.

The calibre of food is on a different level month by month as our chefs gain skills and confidence and in a lot of ways it is not dissimilar to MasterChef (without the bit where you kick off some of the contestants at the end of each programme).

By this time of year our young chefs have honed their skills to such a degree, that famous restaurants snap them up for their kitchens. I am pleased to say, as with every year, the time has arrived again. The most recent was last week, when one of our students got accepted to the legendary two Michelin star “Le Gavroche”.

This for me encapsulates everything we are trying to achieve. We are trying very hard to work hand in hand with business leaders and ensure our students are well equipped to deal with working life.

To have a team of highly skilled and talented staff to deliver outstanding education is not enough. We needed to provide the best possible opportunities for our young people and have forged partnerships with successful organisations and businesses to achieve just this.

We work closely with business to ensure what we teach is the best possible preparation for their future careers and that we provide a smooth transition between the world of education and work. In an effort to bridge this gap we recently formed a partnership with the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber is doing a lot of work to link education and business and have organised a series of events to increase students’ readiness for work. This is a great way for students to be put in front of their future employers and learn first-hand what is wanted and required. This year, the College organised five tailored careers events aimed at specific sectors, and it was hugely successful. Our students had an opportunity to talk directly to employers and see first-hand the career paths open to them.

Another such partnership is the big project for our new multi-million pound Engineering and Innovation Centre in Western Way which has seen us work closely with New Anglia LEP and St Edmundsbury Borough Council.

The centre aims to address the skills shortage in these areas and provide a huge boost to the local economy by keeping our talented young people living and working in this region. The new facilities are also part of a continued drive to inspire more women into the engineering workforce.

The business community is understandably excited by our plans for the new centre. Bury St Edmunds and West Suffolk are thriving. The investment from business is huge and our young people will be at the forefront of the opportunities that will be opening up before them.

The partnerships that we are developing can only be a good thing for the young people of our region. It would not be possible for us to provide such wonderful opportunities without collaborating closely with our partners.

I hope that over the years our young people will reap the benefits of these partnerships by being able to explore different career paths right here in Suffolk and start to develop their own successful partnerships in the future.

This MasterChef season will soon come to an end. However I, luckily, get to continue to witness first-hand the creativity and innovation of chefs and their well-earned elation after the end of a high profile dinner service for big events such as the Cheltenham Festival nights and the Mayor Making Ceremony (which our students are catering for in the Athenaeum).

Our culinary academy students continue to test themselves and become better and better chefs. I have already booked three meals at our restaurant this week (two lunches and a dinner) and I am as excited as Greg Wallace. Education doesn’t get any better than this.

-- Nikos Savvas is principal of West Suffolk College, Bury St Edmunds


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