I have just had a fantastic day at Campbells Prime Meat in Linlithgow. Under the watchful eye of Gerry Neilson, one of Campbells' senior butchers, I had gone there to break down a Wagyu beef carcass. Now, I'm a chef not a butcher. But I had already been out to Campbells a few times because I want first-hand experience of how the experts prepare carcasses for the kitchen.
This time, I went with my sous chef Sandrine and six students from the SVQ Professional Cookery course at Edinburgh College, along with their lecturer Robin Austin. Once we were kitted out with the proper safety gear – more chain mail than a knight in armour – we all got our hands – and knives – on the beef carcass.
Cutting up a beef carcass is hard, physical work. So why not leave it to the butchers? Well, I think it is important for me and my chefs to understand a little of the butchery process. When I serve a dish in the restaurant, I like to know where the ingredients came from and the journey they took to my kitchen. It is about understanding and respecting the product. I believe it is really important that new talent coming into the kitchen does the same.
We set up the Budding Chefs programme to encourage young French and Scottish chefs to learn from each other's culinary traditions. This Campbells field trip was another way of learning new skills from other experts.
As Robin Austin, lecturer at Edinburgh College, commented: "Working on a full Wagyu carcass is something that most professional chefs will never get the chance to do. To have that chance as a student was a real eye-opener for our team. Afterwards, they were all talking about it to their fellow students. Our students will graduate and go into professional kitchens. Trips like this give them an understanding of what the job is really about. It broaden their horizons and gives them valuable contacts and exposure to chefs like Fred and suppliers like Campbells."
When I was starting out in the kitchen in France, my old head chefs passed on, some would say they hammered in, the knowledge and the skills that they had learned. I want to do the same. The students who were at Campbells will soon be looking for their first jobs. It can only be good for me and other catering businesses if those students are coming into our kitchens with as much experience as possible under their belts. These field trips are one way of making that happen. I hope to do more of them.