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Special recognition award for caring Liverpool chef who’s passing on the recipe for success

3 weeks ago

Special recognition award for caring Liverpool chef who’s passing on the recipe for success
Ian receives his Special Recognition Award

After being shortlisted for Chef of the Year in the Liverpool Hospitality People Awards, Ian Corkhill admits he was bit deflated when the winner was announced – and it wasn’t him.

But his disappointment turned to joy when judges revealed there was one man whose achievements and talents deserved the creation of a new award just for him: “And as they started to describe this person, I realised it could be me,” he smiles.

Ian, 59, from Woolton, was presented with a Special Recognition Award for his years of dedication and service to the industry and, more recently, to educating and mentoring hundreds of local chefs who will be its present and its future.

And he says: “I was absolutely overwhelmed.

“To be recognised by my industry, in my hometown, is an absolute honour.

“I have worked with top professional chefs all over the world, but this has to be the highlight of my career.  It really is the icing on the cake.”

Father-of-two Ian studied at Colquitt Street Catering College before leaving Liverpool to train at the prestigious 5-star Savoy Hotel in London, currently renowned for its Grill by Gordon Ramsay and Michelin-starred Restaurant 1890.

He’s worked at some of the UK’s leading hotels and restaurants, including the Old Course Hotel at St Andrews, Linden Hall in Northumberland – where he won North East Chef of the Year – and Cromlix House in Stirling, now owned by tennis star Andy Murray, where he got his first position as head chef.

“I moved back to Liverpool and worked at the former Woolton Redbourne Hotel for nine years and that was amazing,” says Ian, “We got the contract for This Morning when it was filmed at the Albert Dock and all the stars used to stay with us, from Cilla Black to Robbie Williams.

Ian with his Special Recognition Award
Ian with his Special Recognition Award

“We also got the contract for Liverpool and Everton and, as a mad Liverpool fan, I was in my element,” Ian says. “All the players came to stay and I’m still friends with many to this day. They’d come in the kitchen and help me out, and I’d play squash and golf with them.

“My favourite guest was Paul Gascoigne who was just an absolute diamond of a fella.”

Ian has worked all around the world from the US to Australia – ‘I cooked for King Hussain of Jordan’ – before swapping commercial kitchens and an incredible lifestyle for something even more rewarding, teaching.

He worked at St Helens College for 18 years, passing on his skills to hundreds of would-be chefs, with many reaching top of their field (‘one person worked for Heston Blumenthal’s Michelin-starred Fat Duck restaurant in Berkshire’).

For the last four years Ian has combined his skills as a chef and teacher at the Imagine More Café at Strawberry Field, previously the site of the former Salvation Army children’s home where John Lennon played and which is now an interactive visitor attraction.

“I have never worked in a café before and I saw this as my swan song; my goal is to make it the best café in Liverpool,” Ian explains.

“I got a feeling for the place when I came, and I knew I could do big things here, setting high standards to produce the best food: the best fish and chips, the best breakfasts, the best Christmas dinner. Everyone who knows me knows that’s what I expect,” adds Ian, who is good friends and a professional peer of another well-known and respected city chef, Paul Askew.

What Ian hadn’t known about was The Steps at Strawberry Field, on site programmes to support people with barriers to learning, including autism and ADHD, through training and work placements.

In the kitchen of Imagine More Café it’s his job to support the trainees whose ages range from 19 to over 60 and teach them essential skills – but he goes above and beyond, helping them to achieve a level where they can work in professional kitchens, a well as vital life skills.

Five people he now employs are former trainees, one a kitchen porter in his 60s who’d previously been unable to get work!

Strawberry Field Mission Director Major Kathy Versfeld, Ian Corkhill and Jose Rice
Strawberry Field Mission Director Major Kathy Versfeld, Ian Corkhill and Jose Rice – Special Recognition Award

With complex needs, Ian helps them to overcome their anxiety and the inner voice that tells them they’ll never find a job. Hospitality People Awards judge Giovanna Grossi says simply: “It is now time to recognise him in his own right as an industry legend.

“He is so humble he doesn’t even recognise that his dedication, passing on of skills and knowledge, and unwavering standards are his greatest assets.”

Ian says: “I didn’t realise they had Steps at Strawberry Field and now I’m so proud when I tell people about it.

“A kitchen is a fast-paced environment but I’m not a ranter and raver, I have a calm kitchen, and I treat people well.  There’s tough love sometimes, but if they work hard for me, I’ll work hard and do whatever I can for them.

“It’s my job to understand where people are coming from and what their issues are, and my time at St Helens helps here. 

“Two of the lads could hardly speak when they came here, their communications skills were shocking, but now they’re chatting away to me. 

“Paul Askew is fantastic too, and I’ll send trainees to him, and he’ll give them a shot with him.

“I’ve never been one to chase titles, but this is my beloved industry and I’ve had such a swell time. If I can give other people a fraction of the pleasure I’ve had, then I will.

“I tell them it’s hard work and the money’s not great, but you’ll meet some fantastic people, every day is different, and you can go where you want to take it … the world’s at your feet.

“There’s a great deal of pride and satisfaction in helping these trainees go on to bigger and better things. We all need chances in life.”

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