CTH Student Voices – Mel Hurley and Paul Bennet

Posted on 26th March 2020
Studying for a culinary career means you can really have an entrepreneurial spirit and create a business for yourself that focusses on your passion and your lifestyle too.
M&P -7268-2  In this Q&A, we talk to Paul and Mel, a lovely couple who used to be CTH students at Vaughan’s Cookery School. They recently swapped their home for the ownership of the Country Hotel called Tŷ Mawr Country Hotel in Wales - they are a great example of what kind of entrepreneurship is possible in the culinary world. We asked them a few questions:

What was the main reason you chose the CTH qualification at Vaughan’s?

The main reason was that our daughter had completed several courses with Peter from Vaughan’s, both at her primary and secondary school and we were very impressed. It also helped that there were such positive reviews from previous attendees, assuring us it was worth the investment.  We had also been to Peter’s restaurant years ago called The Bistro and loved his approach to cooking and the respect for the ingredients.

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What was the general experience like in class?

It was fairly fast paced, hence it had to be very focused, we learnt the whole time we were there. All the staff are wonderful and approachable, and Peter, Judy and the Vaughan’s team were great answering our endless questions. Although it was a challenging course it was really enjoyable, the fact we were part of a wider group on the course helped us to let off steam about our experiences and have fun discussing how the days went and how our dishes turned out.

Any important learning experiences studying CTH that you can see were crucial for your professional development now you’re at Tŷ Mawr?

The most important learning experience was the MEP (mise-en-place), ensuring you follow a process, are prepared and have the correct food safety plan in place. This has really helped us consistently deliver great food for our guests. We have also built a wonderful list of recipes we can use and what the associated allergens are. We learnt not to be afraid to experiment.  It’s important to spend time to learn about the herbs and spices that you are using and most importantly, as Judy told us so many times, is “Keep it simple!”  This lesson and the ‘written planning/mise-en-place’ planning has helped us so many times in Tŷ Mawr kitchen when it gets busy and the orders are coming in.   

What gets you up feeling motivated in the morning?

Knowing that each day is different and that we are in charge of building our business and our brand. We know that consistency is required in the kitchen and so we do a lot of planning and menu discussion.  We have amazing suppliers locally that we are forging great relationships with, and that help us on a weekly basis.  We now have honey from across the road, from bees that feed in our garden.  You can’t get more local than that!   

Every night Paul comes out of the kitchen to check how the customers are getting on and this goes a long way with our guests, our good work and commitment to high standards will hopefully result in a ‘happy guest’ checking out and booking to come back and recommend us.  They love seeing the Chef and understanding that he is genuinely interested to know how they are getting on with their meal.

What next, or future plans do you have for Tŷ Mawr B&B?

Many!  We have, as you can imagine now with the corona virus, had a very large number of cancellations, however we are confident we will still make progress in 2020. We have clear targets that we strive to meet (and exceed them!) and we review every month to make sure we stay on track. 

Also, we are trying to further develop Tŷ Mawr as a Luxury Country Hotel and Restaurant, we are developing a garden summer house into a luxury lodge so that we can offer a small wedding function facility.

Any advice to future Hospitality or Chef entrepreneurs?

Yes, here are a few tips:

  1. Have a plan in place, be that 12 months, 3 or 5 years, recognise you will need to adapt it as you learn about the business.
  2. Be clear what your offering is.
  3. Put your customer at the heart of your offering and walk in their shoes.
  4. Watch you cashflow and recognise you can’t do everything at once.
  5. Look after yourselves, take holidays and time out.
  6. Recognise, reward and train your team well.
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