After a year in the kitchen of YMCA Norfolk’s Stepping Stones Café in Norwich, Jason Bryant is leaving with a passion for cooking, a chef qualification and a plan for his future.
Jason first moved into YMCA Central in Norwich city centre when he had just turned 21, after being booted out of his family home following a dispute with his parents.
“I came to the YMCA and they helped me to stand on my feet again, not just provide a roof over my head,” said Jason.
After nine months, Jason got his own Council flat, but he lost it because of rent arrears.
“When I was living in the flat, I got to work in a kitchen for six months and got a taste for it,” said Jason. “When I moved back to the YMCA and they told me about the apprenticeship opportunity at the Stepping Stones café, I was straight on it – brilliant.
“The role involves many elements of professional catering – making sauces from scratch, cooking whole meals such as pan fried chicken breast, braised beef and ox tail. It is really good,” said Jason.
“The cooking is good but I most enjoy working with the people around me who help the day go well and are a good laugh. It is good fun but I am also learning all the time. So hats off to head chef Nathan Pickett who has taught me almost everything I know.
“My favourite dish to cook is spaghetti carbonara – it is not exactly hard but it is one of those meals that looks good and tastes great,” he said.
Jason is popular with his girlfriend Danielle and his other friends as now he is able to cook for them: “They buy me the ingredients and just let me go nuts. They all say that because of what I have learnt at the café, my food is just bang on.”
Jason, now aged 24, is just coming to the end of his year-long apprenticeship and will then have an NVQ Level 2 in Catering to his name.
“Hopefully I should be able to move on to a full-time job somewhere in the city in a restaurant or hotel. I am hoping for a bigger kitchen where I can get into the flow of fast-moving service.”
And Jason has other things in mind as well: “I would eventually like to have my own business, a patisserie place, as that is the side I really like, and make a name for myself,” he said. “But start small first.”
Jason is living in the YMCA’s Throckmorton Yard move-on accommodation in Norwich and when he clears his rent arrears with the Council, hopes to apply for another flat.
“A lot of people take the YMCA for granted,” said Jason. “They say ‘they just stick a roof over your head’. But if you need help you just have to go and ask.
“When I first moved in, I did not know how to budget, clean up my room or wash my clothes – I thought I could get away with not paying rent and stuff like that. That’s where I had the fall-outs. I came here and they taught me how to do my washing, clean my room, cook and budget. They have actually got me ready to move into my own place, it is brilliant. They have done me well.”
Alongside his two key workers, Charlie Wall and Kev Dynes, Jason paid tribute to the whole Stepping Stones café team: “They have helped me beyond the point of help. There were some points when I thought I was going to lose my job, but Julie pulled me in and said come on we need to sort this out. I would really recommend anyone doing an apprenticeship like this – you learn so much.
“I now have a real passion for cooking. There is something about being in a kitchen that just relaxes me. When you look at a meal which a customer is eating and saying ‘this is really nice’ that is a great feeling.”
Stepping Stones café
The Stepping Stones café, next to Norwich bus station, is open to the public for breakfast and lunch from 8am to 4pm. From 4-6pm it caters for YMCA residents.
As well as an apprentice, its takes on volunteers, sometimes through a link with City College.
Manager Julie Brown said: “We take some volunteers on where others won’t, as they see them as too much trouble. Giving them their first opportunity is so important.
Jason has done very, very well with us and we are very pleased with him. He is just like a fully-fledged member of the team now, he is brilliant.”
Jason has a new-found passion for cooking, a chef qualification and a plan for his future.