Teaching the next generation of masterchefs

Joanne McCallion, Katrina Lynch and Chef Lecturer Leyonia Davey one of the college's ktichens.
Joanne McCallion, Katrina Lynch and Chef Lecturer Leyonia Davey one of the college's ktichens.

The Flying Clipper restaurant, based at Derry’s North West Regional College, is one of the city’s hidden gems. Run as training ground for young hospitality students, and open to the public two days a week, it provides top class food, impressive service and a real taste of what treats lie ahead for the city as a new generation of chefs and waiting staff make their way in the world. Journal reporter CLAIRE ALLAN visited the restaurant to talk to the students and get a taste of what it’s all about.

Hidden away at the top of Asylumn Road is The Flying Clipper - one of the city’s best kept secrets.

It provides the focal point for the students of the North West Regional College’s catering department.

Chef lecturer Leyonia Davey said that currently the college’s catering and hospitality school has some 600 pupils on their register - leaving her feeling that Derry is well placed to host the hoardes of tourists set to arrive in the city in 2013 when we take on the title of City of Culture .

But she is particularly keen to point out that the emergence of young women in what has been a traditionally male dominated industry is also worth noting.

Two of those students are 22 years old Joanne McCallion from Buncrana and 21 years old Katrina Lynch from Dungiven who have recently returned from the World Skills Fair in London where they were among a group of four students representing the NWRC on a world stage.

Both girls exude a confidence and ambition which should see them succeed to the highest level - and both are happy to say their ambition has been greatly fuelled by the teaching staff and environment at NWRC.

“Nothing is too much for the teaching staff. You don’t feel as if you are being lectured at - you feel as if you are part of something bigger. They support you to go as far as you want to, and push you to be the best you can be,” Katrina a year two student in the college’s Professional Chef’s Diploma Level 2 course said.

Katrina came to the NWRC after spending a few years working in Belfast - where she was planning to go on to study at university. However while there she decided on a change in career and decided to go down a more vocational route.

With great plans in place, including setting her own business making home-made chutneys and preserves - she is already well on her way to making her mark.

“Oh I have the plan,” she laughed, “It’s all worked out. I ultimately want to open my own busines - and I feel I’m being given the best start possible here. The opportunities which have already been opened to me are amazing - such as competing in the Rotary competition last year, cooking at the World Skills fair in London and cooking for the North’s MLAs in Stormont.

“Everything is done to the highest standard - and with great backing.”

Joanne from Buncrana came to the NWRC when she looked to progress her career when her son Eoin, now four, was still a baby. Now in Year Three of an NVQ in Professional Cookery and thriving in the learning environment.

“I find the staff have been hugely supportive in helping me, especially when I have childcare issues. They work around my needs and my timetable which has made it so much easier to be studying with Eoin to take into consideration.”

In the past year she has taken part in the same competitions and events as Katrina and the pair have formed a strong bond of friendship. And both are determined to continue to challenge the male dominated environment in which they are working.

“Women are really coming to the fore,” Joanne said. “We certainly hold our own in the College - and we are just as determined, if not more so, than our male counterparts to give it our all.”

The NWRC provides a full on learning experience. The students are taught in an exceptionally hands on manner - dividing their time between the college’s three learning kitchens - two of which are open to the public as well as to staff and students. Larry Hill’s on the Strand Road is a bistro style restaurant, serving in a carvery style which provides students with hands on experience of working in an exceptionally busy catering environment. The Flying Clipper is a top class, silver service restaurant where the food is a little more exclusive and the pressure is definitely on.

Both girls have worked in kitchens before and say they have been overwhelmed by the facilities on offer at the NWRC. Leyonia states things have changed dramatically in the college’s catering school over the last ten to 15 years, progressing from a small kitchen in a classroom serving an even smaller restaurant to the state of the art facilities at the student’s hands these days.

“The kitchens here received a level five in the food hygiene ratings - the standards are very high and the students have everything that they need to learn their trade.”

Leyonia said that the City of Culture title, along with the promised new hotels and restaurants in the city, mean that the students feel bright about their future. She said that the Culture title also means that the highest standards will be expected from all graduates of the NWRC - from those in the kitchen to those serving front of house.

“It’s about giving students pride in themselves and in their work - and setting the highest standards,” Leyonia said.

Fine dining at the

Flying Clipper

To see the school of Catering up close and personal I was invited to lunch at the Flying Clipper - open to the public each Wednesday and Thursday for lunch and for evening meals on a Thursday.

The restaurant does not feel like a learning environment - it is relaxed and the staff - all year one students having their first taste at service, where friendly and professional.

The food on the menu is exceptionally reasonably priced - a two course dinner setting you back little more than the price of a pre-packed sandwich and can of fizzy drink.

We were at first offered a selection of freshly prepared hors d’oeuvres, followed by a choice of three courses. I opted for Chicken Tandoori, followed by home made chocolate brownie with fresh cream. The food was delicious and beautifully presented - feeling like a realy decadent lunchtime treat.

The restaurant offered real value for money - and could stand up well against other restaurants in the town.