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Award-winning restaurant helps apprentices learn from the best

02 August 2019

Learning their craft under the auspices of a multi-award-winning restaurant is like a dream come true for two ambitious Derry teenagers undertaking apprenticeships in hospitality.

Brown’s Restaurant and Champagne Lounge currently boasts a coveted Michelin recommendation as well as countless other accolades and its name is known far beyond its Bonds Hill base despite having only opened a decade ago.

It has a reputation for excellent food, genuine hospitality and unpretentious service so where better for budding chef, Shane Devine, and front of house server, Sophie Thompson, to be apprentices through People 1st, one of a number of private training organisations working with Derry City and Strabane District Council on its apprenticeship campaign ‘Get Paid, Get Qualified, Get Ahead’ which can be accessed at www.getapprenticeships.me

Browns Head Chef Patron Ian Orr is renowned for his dedication to fresh seasonal produce and support of local suppliers, offering 19-year-old Shane an exceptional opportunity to learn from the best. Shane is near the end of his level two apprenticeship in Professional Cookery having joined the staff of Browns last year, straight from school.

Shane said: "I knew I wasn't going to go to university, it wouldn't be my thing, but I'd always been interested in cooking since my mammy got me into it when I was younger. I came into Browns for a couple of days and stayed. I could have gone to college to learn but I felt I could learn far more here. Phelim, the chef, has been so helpful, he takes the time to tell you and show you everything. I thought I knew stuff before I came here! I've been taught so much already, from butchering to cooking meat, including how to de-bone a whole venison. Everything comes in fresh and it's amazing to learn how to cook and season it all, to find out how to make things taste better.

"Browns is just a different class, everything they do is quality but it's also great craic. I love learning, it's something I'm really passionate about, and everyone here is so friendly, I really enjoy my work.”

Shane will continue with his apprenticeship by progressing to Level three in Professional Cooking while he works at Browns, a winning combination for the young man from Culmore. 

“It’s far better being here getting paid and learning, I’d definitely recommend being an apprentice, you’re learning from people who know everything there is to know and they all want you to learn.

“Eventually I’d like to travel, I love Thai food so I’d love to go to Asia, but the skills I’m learning now mean I’ll always be able to work anywhere in the world.”

Hailed as putting the North West on the foodie map, Browns Bonds Hill offers a range of dining experiences throughout the seasons such as wine dinners, tasting menus, cookery demonstrations, private dining and outside catering as well as social outings, all of which allow Sophie, also 19, the chance to perfect her skills to the highest standards.

Sophie admits she feels 'blessed' to have been given this opportunity. She said: "I initially took a part-time job in Browns while studying but I then went full time and after six months, I was offered the chance to do an apprenticeship which I jumped at as I just love hospitality, working with others and meeting new people.

"The chance to do an apprenticeship meant I was able to get more into hospitality, thinking about the finer details as well as have the opportunity to do both the bar and the floor. I'll shortly be moving onto my level three, which is more a managerial level, so I'll start to work on rotas, times, stock, etc. which will give me even more experience and knowledge.

"Peter from People 1st comes in every Thursday to go through things with me or to observe me at work which is really helpful.

"Browns is fantastic, I am blessed to have this job. Both the people I work with and the customers who come in are lovely.

"Ideally I will stay here after I have finished my qualifications and apprenticeship. It's such a high-class place, I really take pride in my work. It's so nice to be able to say I work here!"

People 1st is one of several training organisations working with Derry City and Strabane District Council as part of its Apprenticeship Campaign. As one of the largest private training providers in Northern Ireland with seven sites in Northern Ireland and three in Donegal, People 1st has been in business for 25 years with extensive experience and success with Government-funded programmes.

It is the major contract holder for the Department for the Economy, offering a range of occupational training and qualifications to more than 2,500 learners per year.

People 1st has won a number of awards including Investors in People Gold Standard and Deloitte Best Managed Company Ireland – Platinum Status.

Tina Gillespie, Skills Manager with Derry City and Strabane District Council, wants to highlight the importance of apprenticeship opportunities for young people in the Council area. She said: “The Council is working very proactively with a number of education providers, private training organisations, careers service and companies to encourage people to avail of apprenticeship opportunities that exist across the Council area. The promotion of apprenticeships is a key element of the education and skills outcomes set out in the Council’s Strategic Growth Plan and overseen by the Education and Skills Partnership.

 “The Education and Skills Delivery Partnership (ESDP) was established as an outcome delivery partnership under the Strategic Growth Plan, to support the education and skills ambitions outlined in the plan. Along with our partners, we are supporting employers to secure and develop the skills they need to increase productivity, and enable individuals to find fulfilling employment and progress in today’s competitive and dynamic world of work.

“Apprenticeships encourage young people to look at vocational options for training in their chosen profession through on-the-job training, study, an industry-recognised qualification and earning a wage.

 “We are delighted at the successes of Sophie and Shane and hope that they will encourage more young people to look at the many apprenticeship opportunities that exist across many sectors, from engineering and law, to construction and fashion design.”

 For further information on People 1st apprenticeships, contact Dan Carlin on 028 7194 0997 or 00 353 86 1409 348 or to find out more about apprenticeships in the Derry City and Strabane District Council area, visit: www.getapprenticeships.me