Aspiring chefs get new mentor

A North East chef who landed a promising job at a luxury hotel is helping budding Mary Berrys and Jamie Olivers to serve up a successful catering career.

Former Gateshead College student Catherine Smith secured the role of pastry commis chef at the prestigious Ritz London Hotel after passing her Level 2 in Professional Cookery with distinction.

Now the 29-year-old from Alnwick is acting as a mentor to pass on top culinary tips to the current crop of catering students. Catherine, who was named Gateshead College Student of the Year in 2013, met patisserie students and gave them practical advice on how to make taste bud-tempting pastry dishes. The students also had the opportunity to quiz her on preparation and cooking techniques, food hygiene, health and safety – and the key attributes needed to wow prospective employers in the fast-paced hospitality and catering industry.

She said: “It’s amazing to be able to go back to college and help current students. I really value the opportunity to keep that link with the college which helped start my career and be able to give something back by becoming a mentor. If I can help just one person to get a job in these difficult economic times, it will have been worthwhile.

“The course gave me a great platform to launch my catering career at one of the world’s most renowned luxury hotels. It gave me the necessary skills that employers need and it can set other students on the path to long-term success, both professionally and personally.” 

Carl Potts, 24, from Cramlington is studying towards a Level 3 Patisserie and Confectionary qualification at Gateshead College. He said: “Catherine is very driven and it was an inspiration to be able to listen to her story and hear what it is like to work in such a high-standard kitchen like the Ritz.

“Her advice has helped me immensely; she passed on some really useful culinary tips and I’m hoping to be able to visit London and possibly the Ritz to broaden my knowledge and experience.

“I’ve also taken it upon myself to get some industry experience here in the region and have secured a work experience placement at Café 21, which is supporting my college learning and helping me to learn lots of new skills.”    

As part of her studies, Catherine scooped two gold medals in the North East Catering Trade Awards and won a competition to serve up a delicious menu in the Ramada Encore Newcastle-Gateshead Hotel.

She is just one of the college’s catering success stories, with several other students going on to secure employment with top North East eateries such as The Black Door, Terry Laybourne's Broad Chare and Cafe 21, Seaham Hall, Six and Jesmond Dene House. They have also had the opportunity to undertake a variety of exciting experiences including making High Tea for Japanese dignitaries in Komatsu, Japan.

Joanne Rogan, lead practitioner in catering at Gateshead College, said: “Many of our former catering students have found employment within the industry, which is a positive reflection of the quality of our courses. Our current students will be hoping to emulate their success and that’s why we’ve brought Catherine on board.

“They relate to her and see her as a role model – there’s no reason why they can’t follow in her footsteps.”

For further information on Gateshead College courses, visit or call 0191 490 2246.