Prior to joining Ashburton Cookery School in February 2016, Lee was the head chef at the popular Monty’s on the Barbican in his hometown of Plymouth. Beginning his career during his last year of school, Lee won the SWEB Trainee Catering Student of the Year Award, whilst doing his apprenticeship under the guidance of the well-known chef Jacques Marchal.
He took some time out of his day so we could get to know a little more about him.
HI LEE, COULD YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT MORE ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND IN THE INDUSTRY?
I started my career at the Bearslake Inn on Dartmoor when I was 15. After that, I got my three-year apprenticeship at Chez Nous in Plymouth, a Michelin Star French restaurant. Those three years turned into eleven. After which, I diverted away from the Michelin Star side of the industry, partly due to having little social life during that time.
I moved to the naval base HMS Drake (HMNB Devonport) as a contract caterer, cooking for the officers. Following that, I was at Monty’s for five years before I joined the school.
WHAT WAS IT THAT ATTRACTED YOU TO TEACHING?
I was in the industry for 26 years, and I’ve got two children, so I started to re-evaluate hours that I was doing. I had been volunteering at Saltash College (part of Cornwall College Group) on my day off, helping the students. That gave me an insight into teaching, and I decided it was something that I would like to pursue. It was a good place to be, but I wanted to set my sights a little bit higher, and that’s where Ashburton came in.
WHAT WAS IT THAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO JOIN US?
It’s got that ‘wow’ factor as soon as you walk in. It’s incredibly well equipped, I loved the fact that everybody I met has great experience, and I was made to feel incredibly welcome by every single person as soon as I walked in the door. Also, seeing how well looked after all the students are, both the recreational students and those at the academy full time. The feedback from them was great. Then there’s the quality of the produce you get to work with. I just fell in love with it, and thought ‘this is where I want to work’.
IS THERE A SIDE THAT YOU PREFER TO TEACH, BETWEEN THE RECREATIONAL COURSES AND THE CHEFS ACADEMY?
What I like most about it, is the variation you get from working with either side, so I can’t say that I have a favourite. I like teaching all of the courses. I love seeing the instant results of the half-day and one-day courses, but the week long courses are great for a different reason. Often on the first day, people are a bit nervous and unsure what to expect. Then throughout the week, you get to see them gain confidence and skills and go away with these life-skills, being happy with what they’ve learnt. It’s lovely to see that.
WHAT’S THE MOST COMMON QUESTION YOU GET ASKED AS A CHEF?
Without fail people always ask me, do you do the cooking at home?
DO YOU DO THE COOKING AT HOME?
I’m lucky enough that my wife is a great cook, and will often have dinner ready for me when I get home. However, when I’m on my days off, it’s definitely my turn in the kitchen. I still enjoy it, so I like cooking for the family, or getting my 4 year old involved and doing some baking. He loves decorating buns and cakes, or making pancakes.
LASTLY, IF YOU HAVE A GROUP OF FRIENDS OVER, DO YOU HAVE A SIGNATURE DISH, OR A PARTICULAR TYPE OF CUISINE THAT IS YOUR GO-TO?
Not so much. The only thing that I look to do is something that I can prepare in advance, or put together relatively quickly. I don’t get to see my circle of friends very often, so when I do, I don’t want to be chained to the kitchen.
A VERY SMART ANSWER THERE LEE. THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR YOUR TIME.