“Cannelloni, a heart attack waiting to happen” is just one of the many phrases I could tell you about my recent trip to Palermo, Sicily with the social enterprise project ‘The Big Fig’ on a training and working fortnight.
The Big Fig is a catering company creating delicious food, offering exciting menus for events, parties and business meetings. And even better – The Big Fig is a social enterprise using profits to support unemployed and disadvantaged people to gain skills and qualifications to build a future career in catering.The course comprised of 6 weeks, four weeks spent in the training centre, two weeks spent in Sicily, culminating in a pop up restaurant evening at the Big Fig.
I began my working life, many moons ago now, in a busy pub restaurant, initially as a pot washer and general skivvy, going on to cooking, waiting and working the bar. A major car accident in 1997 took me out of the catering trade and to be honest I had little desire to return to the stress of chef life. Funny how life can go because at the tender age of 44 I found myself back in the kitchen and I must admit some part of me felt like I had returned home (I was raised around the catering trade) and I felt the familiar buzz of cooking.
The first two weeks of the course was spent dealing with correct food handling and storage, food hygiene, correct use of knives and utensils, food preparation and cooking and basic Italian. On the third week our group flew out to Sicily to embark on a cultural and training fortnight. The first week in Palermo was spent doing street food tours, visiting the vast open markets, cooking in a Sicilian training kitchen, visiting and eating at our work placements and further Italian lessons.
The second week was spent in our respective work placement restaurants. Myself and a friend/colleague/valued team mate got to cook in a place called Molti Volti, ‘Many Faces’ in Sicilian, a wonderful social enterprise centre which works with and helps some of the refugees that have found themselves fleeing war zones from (mainly) Africa to Europe, particularly southern Italy. This place impressed every bit of me as far as its ethical approach to helping these poor people that through decades of appalling foreign policies of the western world are having to abandon their home countries in order to survive.
I loved the Palermo experience and got so much more out of it than what was offered ‘on paper.’ On our return to Blighty it was back to the Big Fig training kitchen to prepare for our Sicilian pop up restaurant night for which we were to cook an a la carte Sicilian menu for 60 people. Even though I say so, the night was a roaring success and I only had one Gordon Ramsey type melt down early doors. All in all this was a fantastic experience that I would recommend to anyone considering getting back into the catering industry. I have to take this moment to thank Mo Yuchetel and Tim Jones, the long suffering course tutors and of course a massive thanks to my team.
For information or to contact The Big Fig:
Head of Catering
9 Russell Place Brighton BN1 2RG