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Student Stories

Robin Read

BTEC National Diploma Catering & Hospitality

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Job title: Group Executive Chef
Current Employer: Firmdale Hotels PLC

I Attended West Kent College for 3 years starting in ‘91. I studied a First National Diploma in Hotel and Catering (1 year) then went on to complete the BTEC National Diploma (2 years). The group I was in stayed together for the full 3 years, so we became quite a close-knit group in and out of college. I always wanted to be a chef, but was really pleased to do the full hotel course, as it’s helped me a great deal more than I could’ve ever imagined back then.

My favourite aspect of the course was always the practical lessons, cooking mainly, but I really enjoyed the restaurant and bar sessions. It really opened my eyes to the whole industry and definitely helped me get to where I have. 

On leaving college, I went to work at a local hotel, the Royal Wells Hotel, in Tunbridge Wells for 2 years in their kitchen. Moving on to Ashdown Park Hotel as a commis, I moved up to senior sous chef, where I worked under John McManus, who was a very big influence on me. He pushed me to enter the Young Chef of the Year competition, which I reached the finals for twice. Throughout my holidays, I’d go and work in some of the best kitchens around the country: Paul Heathcote’s in Preston (2 Michelin stars), Le Gavroche (2 stars), Chez Nico (3 stars) and The Square (2 stars). Eventually, I went to work full-time at Chez Nico for 2 years, starting as commis and finishing as Sous chef. I then had a call from Marco Pierre White, who John had trained with, and went to work with him at The Mirabelle (1 star) for a further 4 years, rising to Head chef. I really felt this was the point in my career that I wanted to cook my style of food, so I took the position as Head chef for the opening of the Soho Hotel. Three years later, I took over the Haymarket Hotel as well, both within the same Firmdale Hotels group. I eventually progressed into my current role as Group Executive Chef for Firmdale Hotels. I’ve undertaken 4 new openings with the company and now oversee 200 kitchen staff in 10 different kitchens.

The biggest highlights of my career to date have obviously been the opportunity to work in some of the best kitchens in the country, but also for Marco and Nico Ladenis, who I really looked up to. More recently, I’d say the way in which we run our kitchens at Firmdale: straight shifts, great training and amazing support from the owners make all the kitchens really good places that produce some really great food.

My advice to anyone seeking a similar role to mine would be: Don’t forget what you got into this industry for!

It really opened my eyes to the whole industry and definitely helped me get to where I have.