Learning Account: The roll call for Royal Ascot

A week in the life of ... Leigh Sansom, 20, a hotel and catering management student at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff. He is spending the summer on a placement with racecourse caterers Ring & Brymer
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The Independent Online
After this summer, I may never be able to look a sandwich in the face again. I'm amazed at how many baguettes and rolls and sandwiches people are able to eat in between watching racing or rowing.

My work placement, which comes midway through my hotel and catering diploma, means I am spending the summer at all the major events of the season. I started at the Chelsea Flower Show, then went on to Lord's, the Derby, Royal Ascot, and spent last week at the Royal Show at Stoneleigh. Next it's Silverstone and the Ryder Cup in Spain.

At the Royal Show, I was based in the sandwich room, which is a converted cellar right in the middle of the 350-acre site, filled with stock and giant walk-in fridges. I'm a management trainee, so I wasn't actually buttering the bread myself, but I had to supervise staff and make sure all the stands around the ground were stocked up. The seafood platters went down well, but we also sold Danish pastries, scones and tartlets, four kinds of coffee and teas, and chopped up lemon for thousands of gins and tonic and fruit for Pimm's.

Then there's the lunches for the St John's Ambulance staff, and I have to monitor the fridge temperatures and use-by dates on all the food.

It does feel quite glamorous, and you can tell your mum that you spent the day at Ascot or Henley, but for the catering team it also means long hours and hard work.

I'm on site at 5.30am to watch the deliveries and make sure they go out on time, and that there's enough of everything. It rained heavily during the show, but 250,000 people came through the gates and the mud and rain didn't seem to diminish their appetites. I'm usually at work till around eight in the evening.

Despite spending the whole summer on racecourses and sportsgrounds, I've done surprisingly little watching of the races and I don't get involved in betting. There's a great atmosphere at these events, but it's also really lively down in the kitchens, especially when the chefs get going.

After two months of my five-month placement, I'm convinced learning on the job is a much better preparation for my career than doing a university degree based in the classroom. My course involves a year and a half of practical lessons, such as bar work and working in kitchens. Then there's the industrial placement, where you get the chance to put your skills into practice.

I was lucky with my placement, because being with such a large organisation gives me a chance to gain a wide range of experience. It has tempted me to stay in racecourse catering when I look for a job - I never wanted a typical nine to fiven

Interview by Lucy Ward

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