Professional cookery students have been working in partnership with agriculture and horticulture departments to create a special a la carte Northumberland lamb dining experience.
The Level 3 learners, who study at Northumberland College’s Ashington campus, are part of the first cohort of cookery students to take advantage of the partnership and have been regularly visiting the college’s Kirkley Hall campus, which incorporates a farm, Victorian walled gardens and greenhouses to broaden their knowledge of how foods they cook are produced.
Students have been involved in all aspects of lambing production this year, taking part in sheep anatomy masterclasses with the farm’s two main breeds of sheep, Texels and Suffolks, to identify fat content by feeling lamb ‘hot spots’, located on ribs, loin and dock.
After selecting four from the flock, the team attended a butchery masterclass with Simon Osborne, head butcher at the Blagdon Farm Shop, where students learned about all cuts of meat.
Andrew Williamson, Agriculture lecturer and farmer at Kirkley Hall, said: “It has been a pleasure to be part of this first farm to fork initiative and I hope this is the start of a fantastic partnership.”
Hospitality and catering course leader David Jackson said: “Facilities at the Kirkley Hall campus give us a unique opportunity to teach our students about food origins.
“Working in collaboration with the farm and horticulture department, we can offer this farm to fork ethos, which is fantastic. No other catering students in the region have that opportunity.”
The first part of the partnership began in September, when hospitality students collaborated with the horticulture department meaning fresh, local seasonal produce is now used in a range of the restaurant dishes.
Produce includes apples, which were made into chutney and sold in the college’s food outlets, pumpkins and squashes for use in soup and tomatoes, baby aubergines, runner beans and leeks.
Mr Jackson added: “This project has been fantastic experience for our learners, seeing exactly where the food we prepare and eat comes from and the process which is included, by working with Northumberland based experienced farmers, butchers and chefs.”
The final a la carte five course-tasting menu, put together with support from Pleased to Meet You Head Chef David Kennedy was served in the college’s 40-seater restaurant, The Gallery.
The menu included Northumbrian lamb broth, smoked lamb belly and lamb scrumpet and was enjoyed by members of the public and guest’s from the farm team.
Head Chef, David Kennedy, who has been working with Northumberland College students to develop their industry skills and knowledge throughout the process, said: “It has been great to get involved with what the hospitality, horticulture and farming teams are trying to achieve at Northumberland College.
“It is vital students on hospitality courses are educated in a rounded way which gives exposure to all elements of the industry. These young people are the future of our industry and it’s crucial we support their development in any way we can.”
Andrew Williamson added: “Chefs and consumers drive farmers and the demand for certain types of products has recently changed, with the need for much leaner meat so it’s very important and great learning experience for hospitality students to see where their meat comes from and the hard work which is put in to ensure the finest quality.
“It was fantastic to see and taste our lambs being used to such a high standard of cooking.”
The team are now preparing for the North East Culinary and Trade Association (NECTA) competition which takes place at Gateshead Hilton Hotel on May 5 and will include a mixture of competitions, live classes, displays and exhibits.
Last year, Northumberland College were crowned the NECTA Champions for the first time in the College’s history after securing five gold, four silver and 12 bronze medals as well as three trophies, two cups and the overall competition winners plate.
The Gallery restaurant opened in 2015 and since, has developed a programme of work experience for hospitality students that includes visits by leading guest chefs.
The British hospitality industry, incorporating restaurants and food service management, employs 10% of the national workforce with 100,000 new jobs forecast by 2020 and in September, Northumberland College became one of the first college’s to introduce Technical Qualifications to meet that demand.
The UK’s booming leisure sector sees career opportunities for those within hospitality include commis chef, head chef, waiting staff and restaurant manager.
The Gallery restaurant offers evening sittings twice a week, as well as a full lunch menu on weekdays, afternoon tea and a children’s menu.