Natasha Smith, Compass Group UK and Ireland: 'Think long term not short term. An apprenticeship might last 18 months, but during that time, think of how you can make the most of it'

The Staff Canteen


Natasha Smith, Compass Group UK and Ireland

Food brings people together in a way that little else does.  

"I've always loved cooking, and baking," said Natasha Smith, pastry sous-chef at Compass. In secondary school, she was part of a business enterprise group selling cupcakes, scarves and poems - and even then, pastry held a special place in her heart.  

While adulthood set her on the path of a university education, first in child psychology, then in culinary arts, she worked part-time at a bakery and was a staffing assistant for Compass' sports and leisure business, Levy UK + Ireland. 

In 2019, she was offered a Level 2 apprenticeship in the Levy kitchen and this set her on course to become a pastry chef. She hasn't looked back since. 

It’s easy to see why: her first big job was running the pastry section at one of the most prestigious summer sporting events in the summer of 2019, and in the autumn of the same year she took part in the Compass Apprentice Chef of the Year competition and won bronze.  

Then, just before the pandemic struck in March 2020, she won a silver medal at Salon Culinaire. 

In September 2020, Natasha joined Compass' education arm, Chartwells, as a chef manager, running a unit at a primary school in Orpington. Responsible for overseeing the food provision for the school, making sure 200 mouths are well fed, with two main course options (and dessert) every day of the week. 

Opportunities, support and space to create your own vision 

Aside from the opportunities she was afforded during her apprenticeship, from encouragement to take part in competitions to working at world-class sporting and music events , Natasha was also given the space, time and support she needed to complete her college work so as to really reap the maximum out of her education as she possibly could.  

"My executive chef really pushed me, threw me in at the deep end and encouraged me to compete , experience the pressure of working at major events , all of that," she said. "He really did see the potential in me that at the time I couldn't see in myself."  

"It was only when I was challenged in that way and presented with these opportunities that I was able to show my skill and passion for what I wanted to do."  

Pass it on 

With these tools in hand, Natasha now plans on building on the foundations she has built over the past three years, combining those French classical techniques with Caribbean flavours to create pastries in her own image.   

The chef is also hoping to encourage young people into catering by doing some workshops and teach them basic cookery skills – whether to bestow that knowledge or spark their interest in pursuing a career in food.  

She believes that others should, as she did, consider the apprenticeship route, as it has given her the confidence and skills she needs to live out her ambitions. 

"I've always known apprenticeships were a good opportunity,” she said, “because you get the whole experience of actually working whilst learning while on the job - so you get paid to work and you gain vital experience, which employers are always looking for."  

Not limited to school-age students, she said, doing an apprenticeship shouldn't be predicated on where you start.  

On her course, she said, "There was a guy who had already been working in a kitchen for a couple of years but didn't have any formal training Then you have someone who has just left school at 16 and is aspiring to be a chef.  

Ultimately, she said, anyone weighing up whether to do an apprenticeship should consider the following: "Look at the benefits, what it offers, what opportunities will arise from it. Think long term not short term. An apprenticeship might last 18 months, but during that time, think of how you can make the most of it." 

Most crucially, she said, ask yourself, "what would be more beneficial? Doing this apprenticeship for 18 months, or going to university for three years?" 

Rather than limiting oneself to a specific career path, it is important to stay open-minded.  

"You never know where life will take you."  

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The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th February 2022

Natasha Smith, Compass Group UK and Ireland: 'Think long term not short term. An apprenticeship might last 18 months, but during that time, think of how you can make the most of it'