Danny Gill and Will Hodson urge chefs to run pop-up kitchen restaurants in schools
Take twelve 15 year old students and a couple of passionate chefs with Michelin experience, add a lightbulb idea, give them a kitchen for a day and what do you have? Apart from a lot of hard work and a lot of fun, you have a possible solution to the catering industry’s skills shortage, with six of the twelve wanting to work in restaurants.
Pop-ups for Schools is the lightbulb idea that came out of a conversation between Danny Gill, of Great British Menu fame, and his sous chef, Will Hodson. After a hard day’s work at Brown’s Pie Shop, the Lincoln restaurant Danny took over in April 2017, the two were thinking of ways to encourage youngsters into the catering industry. “Will came up with the idea of a pop-up restaurant, in a school, where young children could get to prep with chefs, cook with chefs, be chefs, and then go front of house to serve the food to paying customers,” says Danny.
The idea got plenty of encouragement, and some cash, from several companies including Winterhalter, the warewasher specialist. “This is a cracking way to encourage people into the industry,” says Stephen Kinkead, managing director of Winterhalter. “It ties in perfectly with what we are doing as part of the KP of the Year competition. We were happy to help Danny and Will and we’d be happy to keep helping if they can get Pop-ups for Schools up and running.”
Will explains the thought process behind the pop-up idea. “We wanted to get kids out of their comfort zone, to show them what real work is and how exciting it can be working in a restaurant. It’s about getting the word out that this industry is not just something to do in the holidays, it’s a legitimate career.”
Before taking over Brown’s, Danny was head chef at The Flitch of Bacon, having worked with many top chefs in Michelin starred restaurants. “I got expelled from school two weeks before my GCSEs. I started work as a KP and never looked back – I love the buzz of the kitchen,” he says.
The school Danny was expelled from was North Kesteven – but they were delighted to have him back to set up the pop-up restaurant. “The head teacher wants us to go back again,” says Danny, “and we’ve been asked in by several other schools.
“The point is, we have to encourage people to join the industry. Lincolnshire is the second biggest county in England and it’s at an all-time low in terms of students going to catering college. Where’s the next generation of chefs, waiters, food and beverage managers, sommeliers and all the others we need coming from?
“If you can show younger kids what it’s really like to work in a kitchen or front of house, you can attract them into the industry.”
So what’s next for Pop-ups for Schools? “Chefs tend to be passionate about kitchens, food and the whole industry,” says Danny. “That’s why they may well be willing to take the time to run pop-ups in their local schools. If we can get a few like-minded chefs to join in, then hopefully the idea will snowball and we’ll have a real recruitment drive on our hands.”
And how did that first Pop-ups for Schools go? “The students blew us out of water with how keen they were,” says Danny. “Before we began we feared we’d have to bang it all out for them, but they did it, they were on the ball, they started at 8.30am and finished at 8pm. They served 26 covers and everyone said the food was great. At the end of the day six of the students approached me and asked for work.
“I’d like to thank all the companies who lent their support. Alongside Winterhalter there were several others, including RB Wholesale, who donated chef’s jackets, and our local vegetable supplier, Jonathan Hull, who gave us loads of ingredients.”