‘Big Love’, Pasta and a Proper Job.

I have a particular soft spot for Fifteen Cornwall where I recently celebrated my birthday lunch. It is great in the day time because the view is always interesting. The weather and the big waves out of season can make it dramatic, the surfers and dog walkers keeps it animated, the local food sourcing policy and the opportunity it has given many young, otherwise ‘given up on’ people to turn their lives around makes me feel warm inside. But none of this would be worth the trip on their own if the food wasn’t so delicious. I’ve never eaten anything there that I haven’t really enjoyed every last morsel of.

Here’s a piece I wrote for Cornwall Today a while ago.

The ‘salt of the earth’ (and sea) which nurtured the ‘roots,’ tended the ‘sprouts,’ which made the restaurant bloom that attracted the bees…

Being British, we’re not normally effusive with praise and we rarely applaud the divinely inspired on our own doorstep. Fifteen and the Cornwall Foundation of Promise proves that if you give local youth the belief (however tenuous) that they can do, they’ll fly.

The first Fifteen, founded back in 2002, took forward a Jamie Oliver vision which would offer young people a unique opportunity to change their lives by becoming chefs. “I was 24 and 25 when I started Fifteen,” Jaimie said, “and it nearly left me bankrupt.” To the older and wiser, it was perhaps a mad-cap scheme that only a young person would dare to embark on.  Eight years of maturity and family commitments to consider he doubts if he would have taken this kind of risk today.

The inspiring idea was that no one should be written off and everyone can do extraordinary things. The Fifteen Foundation exists to inspire disadvantaged young people – homeless, unemployed, overcoming drug or alcohol problems – to believe that they can create for themselves great careers in the restaurant industry.

It is worth pausing for a moment, if you have ever dined at Fifteen Cornwall, to properly savour each forkful of delicate, mouth-watering deliciousness as you eat.  The ingredients, the way it has been cooked, the suppliers, the view and the environment that makes this county special and the ‘opportunity’ that ‘promises’ to give back.

There are now 4 Fifteens across the globe: London, Amsterdam and Melbourne and Watergate Bay. That fact that every other country and city now wants to have a Fifteen should makes us hugely proud to have one on our patch, plus ours is better blessed with its stunning location and fantastic local food and suppliers. Fifteen Cornwall is surely the cream of the crop.

Dave Meneer, CEO at Fifteen Cornwall, explains how the Cornwall Foundation of Promise (CFoP), a registered charity, gives up to 20 trainee-chefs a once in a lifetime opportunity to turn their lives around through the unique Fifteen training programme. CFoP actually owns the restaurant and uses all of the profits to run the programme.  “People may believe that Jamie takes his cut, however this is not true. Making the best of people’s lives, not making money, was at the forefront of his visionary thinking.”

“To qualify to be an apprentice you have to be aged between 16 and 24, live in Cornwall and be unemployed. The difficulty we often have,” Dave explains, “is attracting more young people to sign up. The very people we want to give this opportunity to, who really need it,  are the most difficult to reach. Most are experiencing many difficulties in their lives and appear to be going nowhere except perhaps on a road towards prison. Often it’s the grannies, witnessing an adored grandchild grown into a troubled and disaffected teen, who will apply on their behalf. What we offer them,” Dave continues, “can be their last chance saloon. We aim to take the ones for whom the doors of opportunity do not normally open.”

Matt Thomas is responsible for the apprentices’ personal development; “We take those who need the programme and know they need to change but are not sure how they are going to do it. This might mean dealing with anger management issues, drug and alcohol problems, relationships, family, their happiness and money problems.” Matt is an experienced outdoors instructor, and as well as working with them on a one-to-one level, also takes the apprentices right out of their comfort zones to face teamwork building challenges away from the restaurant. For Matt, each successful apprentice of the programme is an inspiration. “The majority need to overcome several negative forces in their lives, and are required to show commitment to the programme.  The pay off is certain. It is through Fifteen’s very intensive training they are immediately put ahead to step up to the next level in their careers.”  One graduate of the programme described how the course also taught him valuable life skills. “They only ask you to turn up and then they give you all the building blocks you need. Everyone is there to support you every step of the way.”

Karl Jones is the Training Development Chef; he says that, “There is no magic formula in the way that apprentices are selected. There is a certain gamble is selecting kids who may never have eaten in a restaurant ever before, have low self-esteem and possibly growing criminal records, but the whole team is involved in selection. We get them to taste foods and describe the flavour. We are looking for a ‘spark’, a good palette and the real desire to change their lives.”

Apprentices are frequently taken on sourcing trips where they meet the suppliers. It is helps them to have a better understanding of the food at its source and to build relationships with the producers themselves. Building close reciprocal relationships with Fifteen’s Cornish suppliers is vital. The day’s dishes are based on what fresh, seasonal ingredients come through the door each day, and the guarantee is that the menu is 80% comprised of Cornish produce, a policy which has done much to ensure the development of many local producers.

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