Why the UK is a great place to be a chef, blog by Kuba Winkowski

Welcome back to my March blog. I hope you found my first one interesting, helpful and maybe even a little bit inspiring.

At the end of the month it will be exactly 15 years since I arrived in the UK.

I was 24 years old, I had a degree in financial management, but most importantly I had a passion for cooking. Growing up in Poland, where the restaurant scene and eating out culture hardly existed, a career as a chef was not highly regarded and did not give many perspectives. There was no proper education or support, but I could feel inside me that my dream is to be a chef.

At the end of the 90s, when I was still living with my parents, the only available TV cooking program was ‘Ready Steady Cook’ with Ainsley Harriott, Brian Turner,  James Martin and many more. I watched it daily and it was very inspiring at the time.

Because I could speak English, when Poland joined the EU, I decided to go to the UK ti  make my dream come true.

I arrived with no idea what I was getting myself into or what it takes to become a professional chef. In the first few months I enrolled for a course at Thanet College in Kent, which I started from September. The rest is history.

Over the years, I have received so much support from various bodies, organisations and individuals in the UK.

Facilities at the college where second to none, chef lectures were amazing, I was grateful everyday to learn my dream craft, something that wasn’t possible at home.

I was given an opportunity to work in Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and the British Embassy in Paris, which I have just visited last week during the half term.

One of those incredible organisations is Craft Guild of Chefs, a professional non-profit run by chefs for chefs.

It was established in 1965 and actively supports chefs of all levels, encouraging young people to join the industry and finding the right training to make sure that UK has a sustainable and committed workforce of talented individuals to help the industry thrive.

We are in the middle of the paper entry to the Craft Guild’s flagship competition, National Chef of the Year of which I am a current winner, but there is so much more.

This week in Jersey, another great initiative is taking place: the final of Heat 2019.

Open to full-time hospitality students across the UK, this one-of-a-kind contest equally judges kitchen and front of house staff.

Teams must comprise 11 people, including one lecturer and four students in both the kitchen and restaurant.

Finalists will spend four days in the four-star St Brelade’s Bay Hotel with a jam-packed itinerary exploring the island’s famous local produce at the source, cooking for and judged by some of the biggest names in the industry and celebrating at the prestigious Heat gala.

How amazing is that! What an experience for young people to be involved in, to be exposed to the best produce, equipment, chefs and their skills. Behind any event like this there are so many individuals which voluntarily give up their time to create the best possible future for our industry.

This is only one example of many. It is very important for me to stress how lucky we all are here in the UK.

There are so many different opportunities for us to take and embrace. It doesn’t matter if you are a student or a chef with years of experience; there is something for everyone to challenge you to be better, to progress, to grow. Sometimes when I observe people, listen to them, see their actions I think a lot of things are taken for granted.

15 – 20 years ago, when I was student back in Poland, I could only dream about the facilities, support, knowledge, resources and opportunities which we have here in the United Kingdom. My advice? Grab as many chances as you can, push yourself and pass it on!

My name is Kuba Winkowski, I am the head chef at KUBARN in the Cotswold and National Chef of the Year 2019.

I enjoyed cooking for as long as long as I can remember. I grew up in Poland where the restaurant scene and eating out culture hardly existed, a career as a chef was not highly regarded and did not give many perspectives – cooking was thought of only as a hobby.

I came to the UK to learn how to cook professionally, first at The Thanet College in Kent, then at Broadstairs in Kent.

I won cooking competitions in two countries, did stages at Le Gavroche, Rhodes 24, Buckingham Palace and The British Embassy in Paris. My first full time job as a Commis Chef in Le Manoir aux quat’ Saison under Raymond Blanc and Gary Jones.

In February 2010, I joined the Timmers as Sous Chef, becoming head chef two years later. In his first year running the kitchen, I was awarded 3 AA Rosettes. And several times I appeared on Saturday Kitchen on BBC2, Saturday Morning with James Martin on ITV.

Let’s talk…