Bike crash sparks opportunity for young chef
The aftermath of a bike accident has turned in to an opportunity that trainee chef Lionel Phillips calls “a blessing”.
At the start of the summer he did not have comparable experience in working kitchens, unlike many of the students he is studying alongside in England.
But that has all changed after the bike accident, and then a phone call to the Beau Rivage Restaurant.
Now, when he returns to the UK to continue his training on Friday, Mr Phillips can say he has worked in the kitchen of a hotel restaurant as part of a team alongside celebrated chef Jean-Claude Garzia, whose past honours include the Best Chef in France title.
Mr Phillips impressed during his 3½-month stint at Beau Rivage and stands a good chance of joining its team once he graduates from the Ashburton Chefs Academy in Devon, next year.
“I was supposed to be back in school in May, but I was in a bike accident and broke a bone in my foot, which delayed my return to the UK,” Mr Phillips said.
“I was laid up for eight weeks, then after that I went on the internet and looked up different places I could work, and I saw an article on JC.
“My mom gave him a call to see if he would take me on as a student, and I came for an interview with him. He accepted me. He and his staff gave me a hand to be a better chef.”
Mr Garzia was willing to take him on board, but warned that he already had a full staff and wouldn't be able to pay him.
“He said ‘I don't care, I'm coming to learn'. That is the first student I got like that,” said Mr Garzia, the owner of J&L Group, which also operates JC's Bistro and JC's Café in Hamilton, and Bistro Zanzibar.
He added: “I've been watching him. He'll come back. He has learnt a lot of stuff and he is very nice. Everybody worked with him; the team was very happy with him. He learns, and after we show him [something] he does it.
“There are not many local chefs so when you find one, you want to keep them. I'm sure he will come back.”
Mr Phillips is grateful to his mother Lorna, who made the initial call that led to the opportunity at Beau Rivage, and to Mr Garzia and his team for giving him the opportunity to learn from them
He said: “I really appreciate JC giving me a hand and letting me have an opportunity to work with his chef, I really enjoyed it. It has helped me better my skills and my confidence in the kitchen. That has really helped.”
He is due to graduate from Ashburton in April.
“I want to get my experience, travel around, try different places and cuisines. JC gave me a book of his with articles and recipes, which I really enjoyed, so I plan to come back here if I can.”
Others on the course in England have kitchen and restaurant experience, something that Mr Phillips previously was missing.
“I did not know what everyone else knew, which took my self esteem down. But coming back here and having the accident turned into a blessing. It has really helped me to better myself and better my opportunities for the future.”
When asked what he thinks his colleagues at Ashburton will think when they hear who he has been learning from, Mr Phillips said: “People will be amazed. JC is well-recognised.”
He hopes to return to Beau Rivage. He said: “I love it here. The staff's fun, they're cool. Everyone's in a happy spirit, I really enjoy that and I'd definitely like to come back here to work.”