24th January 2023
We caught up with former student, Tobias (Toby) Caswell-Jones to find out more about his life and work since graduating from the professional cookery course at The City of Liverpool College in 2022. He gives us the background on what led up to him securing a place on Gordon Ramsay’s popular ITV1 show, Next Level Chef, which came to our screens on Wed 11th January.
“Growing up, I always enjoyed cooking; I wasn’t particularly good at it, but I enjoyed it. It always intrigued me how chefs could just look at ingredients and create such huge amounts of flavour. My mother worked in a bakery for a long time, and my grandmother spend most of her working life in a bakery. As it turns out, my grandfather was a chef in the Merchant Navy, and the entirety of my dad’s side of the family are chefs in Ireland. So, unbeknownst to me, cooking was in my blood!
“It was really at the first tick of the COVID pandemic that I started cooking more and more frequently, and I found that once I put my head into it I was pretty good! It was then I decided that I wanted to cook, and applying to college was the next step.
“I decided that with only bar management on my CV, the best way to prove to a kitchen that I can cook – and I wasn’t just some time-wasting kid – was to attain a qualification in cooking. I chose to do an NVQ 2 in Professional Cookery. Little did I know how much I would truly learn about food and the inner workings of kitchens while doing my course, and this little bite extra to what I was expecting is what pushed me to do my Level 3. To be able to learn new dishes and techniques, some that I’d never even heard of, was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. The College developed my repertoire and knowledge by amounts I can’t even measure. If it wasn’t for the Level 3 course, I wouldn’t be the chef I am today.
“Cementing the basic techniques of roux-based sauces, together with the knowledge of what it takes to create flavour in the Level 2, is what mattered most. A plate can look pretty and be ‘instagrammable’ but if it doesn’t taste of anything then it’s pointless. Flavour is the number one priority when creating food, and that’s what the college taught me. Then, following on with the Level 3 and learning more complex dishes, such as the knack of creating a good jus, and dispatching of lobster and crab, as well as being given the opportunity to work with lots of interesting ingredients, put me ahead of most chefs my age – even if I’ve only worked with ingredients once before, it gave me an advantage over someone who had never worked with them before! All the tutors on the cooking course really saw my potential and wanted to nurture me into the chef I am now, the passion these staff have for the next generation of chefs is admirable, they want to see us succeed, and to be able to give them that is an honour.”
“Since finishing College, I went on to become Sous Chef of the two-rosette restaurant, Mustard and Co., in Crosby. But I will say that to progress so quickly is something that wouldn’t have happened without hard work, determination, and sheer willpower. But having the knowledge that College taught me, did put me ahead of the mark, and allowed me to express my capabilities in the kitchen; giving me the freedom to do what I want to do. I currently work in Queens, Liverpool’s new wine bar and bistro, where we do absolutely everything properly and from scratch. It’s with great thanks that I was set up with the best advice from my tutors about commercial kitchens and the ins and outs of the industry, that I couldn’t have done so much in such a short time.”
Gordon Ramsay’s ‘Next Level Chef’ TV show
“Having the opportunity to compete and participate in Next Level Chef was an opportunity I will never forget, nor will I ever take for granted. To have the chance to be mentored personally by the biggest chef in the industry, Gordon Ramsay; his former protégé and starred chef himself, Paul Ainsworth; and American powerhouse Nyesha Arrington. It’s something I’m never going to forget.
“I learnt so much on my journey of Next Level Chef. From going into the competition with a lot of imposter syndrome, to coming out on the other side with a whole new sense of confidence and encouragement in my cooking ability, has transformed me both as a chef and as a person. An experience like Next Level Chef has transformed me. Thanks to Gordon, Paul, and Nyesha, I can finally cook the way I wanted to, and I have the faith and knack in myself to be able to cook in such a way.
“To anyone who is thinking of an opportunity laying in front of them, I implore you to take it. It was a fleeting moment, but taking that first step into Next Level Chef was the best thing I could’ve done for myself, and I encourage any young person to do the same.”
“To anyone thinking of taking the culinary course at the College, I’d tell you to do it; and do it right now! Many people in the industry tell you that “you don’t need college” and that you “learn everything you need on the job”, but I can tell you now, that is not the case. There is a reason why I am where I am in such a short period of time, and that is definitely, in part, with thanks to the college, along with a lot of determination. You gain so much that you wouldn’t otherwise have learnt, and that expansive repertoire helps you tenfold in the industry.
“To current students at the College, what I must tell you is keep going. It’s hard work being in the industry; there are lots of downs, many issues, and a lot of adversity you’ll have to overcome; but at the end of it all, it definitely is worth it. The food industry is the backbone of society, and being able to give an amazing experience to everyone who walks through those doors is an honour and a gift. Everything works out, so keep going, listen to your tutors—they know a lot more than any chef I’ve worked under – and enjoy the experience while you can.
Plans going forward, I hope to keep cooking great food for customers who appreciate it. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, cook food. In my current position at Crosby Wine Bar and Bistro, I’m allowed to cook the way I want to cook and cook using great ingredients and produce.
The main goal is to become a Head Chef within the next few years, and be able to put my own personal mark on the Liverpool food scene, and perhaps even a mark on the UK, but as long as I’m serving tasty, heart-warming food that’s all that matters.♦