Spotlight – Charlie Urry

Tell us a bit about yourself

I’m Charlie – lead chef trainer at The School of Food Bristol, a full-time dad and part-time chef.

I was a head chef in Cardiff at only 21 and have travelled the world by ‘cheffing’ in professional kitchens around the world.

Where have you worked/what work experience did you do?

Where do I start?! I did A Levels in Creative Design, English Literature and PE. I started working as a commis chef in a small restaurant while doing my A Levels and the creative and artistic nature of the work I was doing inspired me to continue cheffing after finishing my A Levels.

I then worked as a chef in Exeter, Cardiff, Courchevel (in the Alps), Cannes (yachts and film festival), London (Soho House), and the Balearics (I was a private chef in villas in Ibiza and Menorca).

I went to Brighton University and did hospitality and event management in the early 2000s.

In 2016 I designed and opened a fish restaurant, gallery and coffee shop in Devon, before moving to London and working on large scale events. I headed up big kitchens in London’s historic royal palaces like Hampton Court Palace and the Tower of London, before spending a brief period as general manager of catering and events at Southwark Cathedral.

I’ve always loved parties, events and festivals, and the experience I gained through cheffing made it possible for me to move into this industry. I worked as a production manager for the wonderfully bonkers and brilliant travelling performing arts and education charity The House of Fairy Tales. Later I became their Head of Finance, before moving on to a large environmental charity as Head of Business Development. My background as a head chef and business owner has given me a wealth of knowledge to provide inspirational industry-standard training to our chef apprentices.

I was attracted to Bristol by its vibrant food and events scene, and I now have two incredible daughters, who are my focus in life. I still work at some great events and love my time at The School of Food. I am thankful to be in an industry that is flexible enough to allow me to be a dad, chef, tutor, party planner, project manager and, occasionally just about, festival-goer.

Why/how did you get into the catering industry?

  • Money
  • Community – your colleagues in the kitchen become some of your closest friends
  • Fun and freedom.

I don’t think the catering industry is well represented as a career option for learners. I believe it’s a career path suitable for such a wide range of learners, for example:

  • If you embrace the academic element, you can get your chef skills with The School of Food and then use your entrepreneur skills to set up your own restaurants, street food stall, catering company; go into management of menus and people; be responsible for corporate pitches for big jobs. The possibilities are endless.
  • If you are more of a practical learner, you can get your chef skills with The School of Food and use the skills you gain to progress in your profession, and move onto a top restaurant or head chef position – whichever path you choose.

Tell about your role at The School of Food.

The School of Food Commis Chef course is the brainchild of Michelin-starred chef, Josh Eggleton and Best Ambassador for Food winner Adrian Kirikmaa. These two highly experienced chefs joined forces with the Ofsted outstanding rated Weston College and Ashton Gate Stadium to develop a unique training programme to directly respond to the chef skills shortage in the West Country. Our students get access to high-quality kitchens, industry experts and invaluable insights. This means when you graduate from The School of Food, you’ll have all the relevant training you need to progress into a career in food and the hospitality industry.

The apprentices work full time for an employer, and attend our inspirational masterclass programme, one day a week in in the state-of-the-art kitchens at Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol.

I co-ordinate all the guest chefs, ensuring that all the basic skills that will be assessed are covered, but also devise lesson plans based on what is happening in the food industry now through show-stopper demos from the best chefs in the business. It sometimes feels and looks like an episode of Master Chef in our kitchens, exactly what we’re looking for – challenging, practical and engaging learning. At all stages we aim to inspire and elevate and I think our guests chefs really feed off that energy too. 

I also maintain my industry links by running my own business in addition to training chef apprentices. I am lucky to be able to pick and choose what I do. Usually that means it needs to be fun; whether that be flamboyant wedding feasts, high-end pop-up restaurants for boutique camp-sites or coordinating food stages for festivals. I love cooking outdoors and over fire wherever possible – the more challenging the venue or environment the better. I currently help co-ordinate The Garden O’Feeden at Shambala Festival and, as a result of that work, I’m taking a big interest in the sustainability of food systems and how we eat. This knowledge regarding sustainability is passed on to our chef apprentices at The School of Food.

Do you have any fun stories/fond memories of your time here at The School of Food?

  • The Wild and Well Festival – last October some apprentices and I did wild caveman cooking, you can watch us here (3.45-4.05 minutes in).
  • Steven Lamb from River Cottage – Some apprentices and I joined Steve for two session “invasive species” and “vegetables on the edge” at The Community Farm, all the ingredients were cooked on open fires.
  • Port Eliot Festival – we worked with Freddy Bird from The Lido, doing banquets for 250 a night.
  • A Christmas banquet for TEMWA – we cooked Malawian inspired food live and outdoors at Circomedia.
  • Joining a live broadcast with Ujima Radio at St Nicholas Night Market in Bristol for the  Bristol Food Connections festival in Summer 2018.  

And many more ….

The press have identified that there is a shortage of skills in the catering and hospitality industry. What are the best bits and why should more people join the industry?

  • The freedom and creativity to discover and create dishes
  • You learn transferable skills – team work, organisation, management, logistics, communication, business, health and safety
  • Good money (from day one)
  • It’s a growing industry
  • The ability to eat well yourself
  • The community spirit within the kitchen – your colleagues become some of your closest friends
  • The variety – you can work in a local organisation (hospitals, colleges etc.), restaurants, hotels or you can step out of the kitchen and run your own business
  • The ability to travel and work
  • It’s great fun.

Do you have any advice to future students?

Regardless of your ambition, sign up today. Not only will you learn to cook but you will also learn many invaluable transferable skills such as project management, marketing, budgeting, finance and much more.

Look at the industry as a whole and the doors the Commis Chef apprentice will open for you.

Anything else you would like to add?

All the good restaurants in Bristol are crying out for skilled chefs – if you train with The School of Food you will be snapped up!

Find out more

  • Visit www.school-of-food.co.uk
  • See what vacancies are currently available here
  • Join us at Weston College:
    • Festival of Learning (adult courses open day) – 15th June
    • Apprenticeships open evenings – 13th June