First, teach your trainee how to get out of bed

Jamie Oliver's role as chef-guru at Fifteen is not unique. Chris Arnot watches raw recruits at work in a hotel in Windermere

The waiter's hands are shaking. And either he's spent too long near the kitchen stove at the Trinity House Hotel or he's blushing. I suspect the latter. He is, after all, only 16 or 17 and this is his first night of trying to pour wine without spilling it. "Tonight's mystery course," he manages to blurt out, "is baked monkfish wrapped in Parma ham with a wild mushroom ... sorry, garlic sauce."

The waiter's hands are shaking. And either he's spent too long near the kitchen stove at the Trinity House Hotel or he's blushing. I suspect the latter. He is, after all, only 16 or 17 and this is his first night of trying to pour wine without spilling it. "Tonight's mystery course," he manages to blurt out, "is baked monkfish wrapped in Parma ham with a wild mushroom ... sorry, garlic sauce."

Well, it must be a bit off-putting to recite all this as one of those you're serving is scribbling in a small notebook. Not me, I hasten to add, but Neville Talbot, managing director of Trinity House and the four-star Lakeside Hotel, overlooking Windermere. Impeccably groomed, Mr Talbot has a well-clipped white beard, a military bearing and a way of looking over his specs in the manner of a strict headmaster. Only after a while in his company do you realise that there is also a mischievous and avuncular side to his nature.

He is as different from the celebrated chef Jamie Oliver as Westland Place, London, is from Ulverston, Cumbria, where the Trinity House is sited. Yet the two have one thing in common: an uncompromising demand for high standards. "I've been doing this for what seems like forever," says Mr Talbot, "and I know that demands of guests are becoming higher and higher." Meanwhile, he was also finding that the basic skills of would-be staff were becoming lower and lower.

More than two years ago, his company sought a radical remedy. They leased this Georgian former vicarage and transformed it into a hotel where they could train raw recruits under strict supervision. "And I mean absolutely raw recruits," says one of the directors, Clive Wilson, who says he was "delighted" when he saw young Master Oliver doing much the same thing with rather more publicity. "The way he was let down by people not turning up mirrored our experience exactly. One of the first lessons we have to teach trainees is how to get out of bed. Then it's how to eat while sitting round a table. Until they joined us, most had been reliant on takeaways. We send them to catering college twice a week but, before they learn to cook, they must learn to appreciate good food."

You might expect the Lake District to have a long tradition of service. But Ulverston is not as touristy as Keswick or Kendal. Geographically, it's closer to Barrow-in-Furness with its declining shipbuilding industry. For youngsters who can no longer guarantee following their fathers into the shipyards, the hotel business is an option offering less money but brighter long-term prospects. "We thought one or two of our trainees would head to London," says Mr Wilson, "but they don't seem to want to go." Well, Cumbria does have plenty to recommend it. Ulverston itself is a handsome market town with cobbled streets, a "World Peace" Buddhist-run vegetarian café and the splendid Laurel and Hardy Museum. Stan Laurel was born here in 1890 and I half expected a certain slapstick entertainment value to prevail in Trinity House's elegant restaurant.

As it turns out, though, there are no soup bowls upturned into laps. The waiters' every move is closely monitored by the front-of-house supervisor, Sarah Metcalfe. Behind the scenes, too, everything seems well ordered. Chef Duncan Collinge is not a screamer. He had enough of what he calls "roastings" when he worked for Albert Roux at Le Gavroche. "The kids today wouldn't tolerate it," he says. "Within two weeks of them starting, I know which ones are going to be strong enough to cope."

A couple can stay at Trinity House for £28 per person per night for two nights, including breakfast. Yes, £28. No wonder Ulverston locals pack the restaurant on weekend evenings when four courses, overseen by a chef of Collinge's pedigree, are available for £15.95. And no wonder Trinity House bills itself as "a four-star experience at two-star prices".

For the full four-star experience, with prices to match the setting, we moved on to the idyllic Lakeside Hotel. While my wife went off to be pampered by one of the beauty therapists, I sat on the lawn with a beer and a Caesar salad.

Reluctantly, I dragged myself away to meet Darren Anderson, 20, who has taken to cooking like a duck to Windermere. He joined the Trinity House training scheme at 18, after six months on the dole in Barrow. "I used to watch telly stuffing myself with burgers or fishfingers and chips," he recalled. "Now my ambition is to be head chef on a big cruise ship."

Holly Duncalf, 17, prefers to be front of house. We'd met her at Trinity House where she had insisted on carrying our bags. After a year's training, she was just making the transition to Lakeside. "When I first started, I thought there were two types of wine: red and white," she recalled. "And I once dropped a fruit salad all over that dining room floor. With cream."

Stan Laurel would have enjoyed that. Neville Talbot would have noted it down as an experience to learn from.

Trinity House, Ulverston, Cumbria (01229 588889). Lakeside Hotel, Newby Bridge, Lake Windermere (01539 530001). Until 1 October, weekend breaks at Lakeside are £195 per person, including full breakfast, plus dinner on Friday or Sunday night

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
News
i100
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention