Origins: “Classes for women”
Catering courses at City College Norwich can be traced back at least as far as the first decade of the Twentieth Century. At that time the main college departments were Science, Technology (covering areas such as Boot and Shoe Manufacture, Carpenters’ and Joiners’ Work, Cabinet Makers’ Work), the Art department, and Commercial and Literary Classes. Cooking was not within one of the main college departments, but was grouped with the courses titled “Classes for Women”.
In 1906, for 2 shillings, you could enrol on 13 lessons in Elementary Plain Cookery. Thirteen lessons in Advanced Plain Cookery could be taken at a cost of 3 shillings and sixpence. Other classes for women that were offered at the time were Laundry Work, Dressmaking and Household Management.
On the Elementary Plain Cookery course (see syllabus below), you could expect to start out making steak and kidney pie and fruit salad, working your way on to roast pork and apple sauce, with a good deal of baking along the way, eg. sultana scones, sponge cake, Queen pudding and raspberry buns. The Advanced course featured Roast Stuffed Veal or Mutton, Christmas Cakes and Lobster Cutlets, amongst others.
Despite the seemingly marginal status of these early catering courses, they were nonetheless subject to assessment: the 1903 prospectus indicates that the advanced cookery course had been adapted to meet the requirements of the City & Guilds of London qualification in Plain Cookery.
The Domestic Science Department
Separate from the Tech, the Norfolk and Norwich School of Cookery had been established by Norwich City Council in 1903. Ten years later, in 1913, it was absorbed into the growing Municipal Technical Institute, to become the Domestic Science Department.
Our records from the inter-war years are patchy, but all of the indications are that the courses within Domestic Science were still very much geared towards what was considered to be women’s work.
By the mid-1930s the Domestic Science Department still offered cookery alongside courses such as dressmaking and laundry work – and there was even a course in Housewifery!
Reflecting changes in society in eating habits, the food that was available and nutritional awareness, the cooking courses offered in the 1930s offered a greater breadth of types of cooking as well as a greater variety of dishes to learn. In 1934 you could learn about Vegetarian Cookery through High Class Demonstrations (“for those who wish to cater for good class meals, and to assist in the varying of meals and menus”) and there were also courses covering “Cooking for the Convalescent” and “Light Diet Foods”).
From home cooking to the hospitality and catering industry
In the years following the Second World War, there is a discernible shift in the college’s catering offer towards providing skills needed for the hospitality industry. While courses oriented towards housewives remained a part of the Catering and Domestic Science Department, by 1954 students could also pursue courses in Catering Trades, Cookery for Hotels and Catering Establishments, and Waiting and Restaurant Service. The curriculum now covered some of the more commercial aspects of food preparation and service, such as food hygiene, stock management and counter service. During this period, for the first time, references to male catering students appear in college publications.
Ever-strengthening links to industry can be seen not only in the curriculum, but also in the improving facilities for catering and in joint initiatives with hospitality employers. Domestic Science benefited from an extension, above the workshop block, in 1962-3; and in 1970 the Cromer Building was opened, providing a brand new building for the renamed Department of Hotel-Keeping and Catering, featuring impressive new kitchens and a new training restaurant (relaunched as the Debut Restaurant in April 1999 by chef Galton Blackiston.
Links with employers
Whilst much has changed since the college’s first catering courses more than a century ago, reflecting changing gender roles, evolving culinary tastes and leisure patterns, and the huge growth of the sector, the modern Hotel School has consistently kept in touch with the industry’s evolving needs through its close links with employers.
This is reflected today in the numerous opportunities that the college’s trainee chefs and hospitality students are given to work with leading local employers, such as through the annual hotel takeover which sees around 80 students take on the running of three busy city hotels for a week.
Restaurant and competitions
Students also benefit from working in the college’s fine dining Debut Restaurant, which is open to the public, as well as from catering at large external events and functions including the popular dining marquee at the Royal Norfolk Show.
In addition, individuals and teams of students from the Hotel School regularly feature in regional and national finals of skills competitions such as WorldSkills UK, the National Seafood Competition, A Passion to Inspire and many others – providing opportunities to showcase their skills against the very best of their peers.
Recognition and awards
Over the last 40 years or so City College Norwich has established itself as a leading college, not only in the region but in the country, for its training in hospitality and catering. In April 1969, the Eastern Evening News described the college’s Department of Hotel-Keeping and Catering as being “recognised as a regional centre for hotel and catering education in East Anglia”. In 2002 the college was named a Centre of Vocational Excellence for hospitality and tourism.
More recently the Hotel School was recognised as the UK’s first Centre of Excellence in Front Office and Reception for the outstanding training, work experience and employment opportunities students receive on the Level 2 Hospitality Diploma in Hotel Reception.
By Royal Appointment
The college’s reputation for training excellence saw its students heavily involved in catering for Her Majesty the Queen at Sandringham as part of both the Golden Jubilee in 2002 and the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012. For the Diamond Jubilee, 100 students from the college prepared and served food for Her Majesty and 4,000 guests at the Diamond Jubilee Garden Party at Sandringham.
This was not the first time that the college’s students have cooked “by Royal Appointment” – in December 1994 fifteen Advanced Craft Catering students from the college went to Buckingham Palace and provided food and wine for 150 members of the Queen’s staff.
10,000 careers launched
The quality, growth and reputation of the Hotel School at City College Norwich has been underpinned by the contribution of generations of outstanding lecturers with a real passion for their industry. Students past and present readily recall their inspirational, supportive and memorable teachers and mentors.
In this context, special mention must be made of Steve Thorpe, Assistant Principal and Head of School 3, who is estimated to have made a direct impact on the careers of some 10,000 hospitality and tourism students during his 20 years’ service at City College Norwich.
In 2013 Steve received a special Outstanding Achievement award at the EDP Food and Drink Awards 2013, in recognition of a career devoted to training for hospitality and tourism. The citation for the award said:
“There can be very few kitchens in the county that haven’t had an influence from Steve Thorpe. He has cajoled, instructed and inspired a generation of chefs, service staff and hotel managers and continues to work tirelessly to promote the hospitality trade and his adopted county… He is respected by his peers across the national educational system, by his students both past and present and by Norfolk’s employers.”
Notable alumni from the Hotel School include Michelin-starred chef Tom Aikens, Richard Bainbridge (head chef at Morston Hall in Holt), Danny Savage (head chef at the Kings Head, Bawbrough), Julia Hetherton (head chef at Strattons Hotel), Richard Knights (head chef at Byfords) and Andy Snowling (Executive Chef of Animal Inns).
Speaking in 2013, Tom Aikens said:
“City College was where I found something I was good at, and something I loved. My time at the college best-placed me for my first job working at David Cavalier’s restaurant in London. The catering and hospitality skills taught to students is first class with many students carving out highly successful careers in the industry.”
We have received some wonderful stories and memories from past catering and hospitality students of the college, including: HND Hotel, Catering & Institutional Management student Mark Foster who seized the second chance offered by the college and went on to work as a Duty Manager at The Grand, Brighton and run a pub of the year (read Mark’s story here); and Jean Dale, who trained in cookery with the college in the 1950s, which proved to be the starting point for a life in farming and food manufacturing (read Jean’s story here).