Student Chef Benji Cooks Up a Treat for the NHS

“It’s been really busy. We’re in week 8 and so far we’re coming up to our 6000th meal.” Trainee chef Benji Nathan doesn’t like to have nothing to do. When faced with the prospect of no work for weeks or maybe even months because of the UK-wide COVID-19 lockdown, some people might be tempted to kick back a bit and relax.

Not Benji. In addition to his online studies with Westminster Kingsway College, he works for his cousin Adam in his catering business Adam Nathan Catering, preparing delicious dishes for the company’s clients. When the lockdown was announced in March, Adam asked Benji if he could help out more, as Adam wanted to continue creating dishes for any of the firm’s clients who still needed them and to help support the NHS at the same time.

A photo of chef Benji Nathan, who is helping to cook meals for NHS workers during the COVID-19 crisis.

As Benji explains: “A friend of Adam’s works at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in Central London. She told us that many of the staff weren’t eating properly, because they are really busy and the canteen is closed now, because of the virus. We thought we could help, so whenever we get an order for our meals from a paying customer, we offer them the chance to spend an extra £10 to ‘donate a meal’ to the hospital. With the help of Richard Delow, who trained to be a chef at Westminster Kingsway College too, we’re averaging 130 meals for the hospital each week, which is all thanks to the generosity of our customers.”

A photo of meals for NHS workers during the COVID-19 crisis.

As well as catering for the company’s customers and the donated NHS meals, Benji also bakes for a north London community organisation called You Donate We Deliver, which provides free meals for NHS workers. Since it was started by a north London mum and her daughter at the end of March, You Donate We Deliver has gone from helping a handful people to feeding thousands of staff in hospitals across north London every day, with the help of a small army of delivery drivers and chefs like Benji, coordinated through six ‘hubs’ across the region.

Benji continues: “When I leave college I want to be a chef. I am studying on the college’s Pastry diploma to expand my knowledge and become a more well-rounded professional. So every week at home with my family, I bake around 150 portions – cakes mostly – for my local You Donate We Deliver hub in Totteridge.  It’s wonderful to be able to do what I love, while helping the NHS at the same time!”

But that isn’t all. As well as baking for NHS staff, and the catering work and NHS meals he prepares with Adam and Richard, Benji also has to keep up his Westminster Kingsway college studies, even while it’s closed. He is in his third year at the college and, before the lockdown, was studying at our Victoria campus full-time. Now working at home or from Adam Nathan Catering’s St Albans kitchen, Benji has been able to continue learning and has enjoyed watching the college’s ‘lockdown’ online Culinary Masterclasses series too. “The other chefs in the kitchen and I have watched the Masterclasses and really enjoyed them. The next Masterclass is with Sarah Mountain [a well-known Pastry Chef] and I’m really looking forward to that!”

As you’d expect, Benji’s Level 3 Patisserie Diploma course has many practical elements, so, although he can’t attend college and practice his craft in the kitchens there, he’s definitely keeping his eye in at home. “I am very busy doing college work, plus all the meals I’m doing with Adam, and baking for You Donate We Deliver. I love it and it’s very rewarding!

“I have also been practicing other baking techniques and learning new skills too. For example, I’ve been learning how to make flowers and things like that out of fondant icing, to decorate cakes. It’s my Grandma’s 95th birthday soon and I’m going to make her a cake and hand-pipe some flowers to go on it.  I hope she likes it.”

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PS: Benji’s Grandma loved her cake!

Culinary Student off to India for Global Chef Competition

Westminster Kingsway College student Beth Collings is hoping to be crowned the world’s top young chef, as she flies out to India this week to represent England in a prestigious global competition.

Beth, 18, is a 3rd year chef student at the college’s School of Hospitality and Culinary Arts in London’s Victoria, and will be competing against chefs from 59 other countries in the 6th annual Young Chef Olympiad.

This year’s Olympiad pits young chefs from 60 countries around the world in a series of gruelling, timed cook-offs in cities across India, with only 10 competitors qualifying for the Grand Final in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata on Sunday 2 February. Beth has been drawn in Group B, and will compete against chefs from Kenya, Cambodia, Bahrain, Jordan, South Africa, Bhutan, Costa Rica, Indonesia and Romania.

Beth’s bid for the final starts in Delhi with the first round on Wednesday 29 January, followed by the second round the day after. As she explained: “I have been given a list of ingredients for the first round, from which I have to select at least half to create a dish of my choice.  The competition gets progressively harder, because in the second round I’ll have to cook two courses.  If I make it through those two rounds, the Grand Final is on Sunday 2 February.”

Beth is in the 3rd and final year of her Professional Chef Diploma course at Westminster Kingsway College. She commutes to college from Brighton every day and has been planning and practicing for the Olympiad since November. The college has a lot of experience of helping its students prepare for culinary competitions in the UK and abroad, and Beth has been mentored throughout by college Chef Lecturer Chris Basten. Chris told us: “I’m immensely proud of Beth for all her hard work and dedication, as well as her skill as a chef. It’s an amazing opportunity for Beth to be representing not just the college, but her country in this international competition and I hope she does really well and enjoys the experience.”

Beth is grateful for the support that she’s had from the college and from Chris in particular. “Chef Basten selected me to compete in the competition and has been so helpful – helping me work out which ingredients I’ll use for the first round and guiding me though the things I’ll need to do in the competition. I’ve worked hard for this and now that the Olympiad is nearly here, I can’t wait for it to start.”

Unfortunately for Beth, who has never been to India before, the competition’s schedule, preparing for the different rounds and having to take a 2-hour flight from Delhi to Kolkata, means that there won’t be much time for sightseeing. “Whatever happens, I’m really going to enjoy the experience. I’m a bit nervous but excited too!”

As befits a global competition, there is a large international judging team, including internationally-renowned hospitality educator Professor David Foskett MBE, Anton Edelmann (who was maître chef de cuisines at The Savoy for over 20 years) and top UK chefs Brian Turner and Chris Galvin. Also in the judging team is the college’s Hospitality and Culinary Arts Programme Manager Paul Jervis. Paul told us: “We are all very proud of Beth for being selected for the Olympiad and everyone at Westminster Kingsway wishes her the very best of luck.”

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