A HEAD chef who left his role at a top culinary hotel to serve up high quality dishes at a dementia care centre has spoken of his delight after winning a gold award at the social care Oscars.
Richard Thompson admits it was a huge wrench to leave The White Lion Hotel in Worcester, but says leading the catering team at Bryn Seiont Newydd in Caernarfon, Gwynedd, since its opening in October 2015 has provided him with the fresh challenge he was craving.
The 37-year-old catering manager, who has brought with him a wealth of experience and skills to the care sector, has been praised for the presentation of his food which has not only been well received by residents but also their visiting family members.
His hard work and dedication to giving residents “dignity at meal times” over the past two years led to him being nominated for the Excellence in Catering award in the Wales Care Awards, sponsored by Ontex Healthcare and Barchester Jobs.
The prestigious national awards, run by Care Forum Wales and dubbed the “Oscars” of the care industry, acknowledge the hard work and exceptional performances of those in the sector.
Richard, who lives in Bethel near Caernarfon, Gwynedd, was awarded the top prize in his category, which was sponsored by Harlech Foodservice, during a glittering awards ceremony at City Hall in Cardiff.
He said: “I was shocked, I really wasn’t expecting it. I was just proud to have been part of the evening and that topped it off. It’s a big honour.
“I’ve always said this is very much about the team. I wouldn’t take all the credit because I couldn’t have done it without them.
“Everyone is delighted at Bryn Seiont Newydd and have all wished me congratulations.
“I didn’t make the move into the care sector to win awards or things like that but of course it’s nice to know that what you do is appreciated.
“It’s long hours and a lot of hard work so it’s nice to get recognition.”
Richard is originally from Chester and after leaving school landed an apprenticeship which was to help shape his future catering career.
He explained: “I did an apprenticeship at a hotel in Tarporley, just outside of Chester, called The Swan Hotel and went to Mid-Cheshire college once a week to do my NVQ in catering.
“After nine months when I’d got my Level 2 award my head chef at the hotel left to buy his own hotel in Worcester.
“I had a really good working relationship with him, he basically took me under his wing.
“He contacted me to see if I’d consider taking up a position at the hotel and I thought why not? I was still only 17 so it was a big move leaving home.
“But I knew that I was going to learn a hell of a lot more by making the move and I ended up staying there for 18 years.
“I really enjoyed it so it was a big decision for me to leave. It wasn’t easy. I was part of the furniture and the owners were more like family than my bosses.”
Richard, however, knew the time had come for a fresh challenge and after being alerted to the vacancy at Bryn Seiont Newydd, which is run by the Pendine Park Care Organisation on the site of the old community hospital, he decided to take the plunge.
He said: “I wanted a new challenge, something different to get my teeth into. I’ve not regretted it.
“Every day is different and it’s never mundane. There is always something to challenge you.
“I was open minded about moving into the care sector and once I sat down with Mario Kreft (proprietor at Pendine Park) and heard his philosophy, I knew it was right for me.
“His ethos is basically that everything is done and catered for the residents. They are the main focus and nothing is too much trouble.
“We have to tailor everything for their needs and dietary requirements.”
Richard says he has transferred his hotel expertise over to the care sector and this is helping to enrich the lives of the residents.
He explained: “Presentation was a big part of working at the hotel. We gained one AA Rosette in the first year and maintained it for 18 consecutive years after.
“You eat with your eyes so if it looks nice it will encourage them to eat. The feedback from day one has been great.
“Quite a number of family members come and eat with the residents each week and they keep coming back so it must be OK!”
Richard added: “Working here for me is all about enriching the lives of the residents and going that extra mile.
“My role isn’t that much different from what I was doing at the hotel. I used to walk through the restaurant and talk with the diners. Engagement was very important to us.
“I do the same here. I remember in the early days when the home first opened there was a lady who wasn’t eating her meal.
“So I went and sat with her for 15 minutes. I said I’ve made this just for you and gave her that little bit of encouragement she needed to start eating.”
In nominating Richard for the award, group catering manager Christine Tracey commented: “Richard is passionate about the quality that the kitchen team deliver to our clients, showing a dedicated and professional approach. This has been proven by the quality and choice that they provide.
“He delivers person centred care towards clients and believes taking extra care with the presentation of staged diets gives the clients dignity at meal times.”
She added: “Richard has been in the care sector as chef manager for 20 months. His employment began with us in July 2015 when he applied for the catering manager position at Bryn Seiont ready for the opening in October 2015.
“During this time he was at our kitchen in Summerhill, Wrexham, getting familiar with the Pendine way, policies and procedures.
“Richard gained a five star rating for his food safety inspection and on opening he worked through staffing issues, working many hours covering shifts and ensuring that the kitchen was running smoothly.
“Richard has brought his hotel background and skills from the hotel kitchen to Bryn Seiont, much to the delight of residents and families as this has had a big impact on menus and presentation.
“He has a lovely way with the residents and nothing is too much trouble to please them. In the early days when the clients were settling in one lady wouldn’t eat her meal unless Richard went to see her, which was lovely to see.
“In the last few months Richard has taken a keen interest in staged diets. He has produced some lovely treats and serves moulded food on roast dinner days which have been very well received.
“Richard has also introduced afternoon tea parties and taster days for the clients.”
Mario Kreft, the Chair of Care Forum Wales, said the standard of entries was extremely high.
He added: “There are only winners here tonight so it is only fitting that the finalists will receive a gold, silver or bronze Wales Care Award.
“I trust that they will continue to inspire those around them as role models and encourage others to aspire to even greater heights in the months and years to come.
“This awards ceremony is our opportunity to pay tribute and to celebrate the talent and commitment that is improving the quality of life for thousands and thousands of people throughout Wales.
“We take our hats off to them.”
The MC for the awards evening was opera singer Wynne Evans, aka Gio Compario from the well-known television adverts for Go Compare.