Can Hayley stand the heat of the kitchen?

Hayley has a new job and is experiencing the real world of work – but can she stand the heat of the kitchen?

Sunday night, waiting in the car

Here she comes, emerging from the dim light cast from the pub windows and climbing into the car. She’s happy, cheeks flushed from a hectic night in the kitchen, looking very professional in her black mandarin collar uniform shirt.

Hayley’s got a new job and she’s in her element. She’s a part-time kitchen assistant in a fine dining pub. On busy nights it’s pot washing and clearing up, on quiet nights the two chefs let her help with the food preparation so she can learn her trade. It’s a great job to go with her college course in hospitality and catering; the students are expected to find a part-time job to build their experience and supplement their college skills. The pay’s not bad either, and the girl is rather partial to earning money.

Teacher Helping Students Training To Work In Catering

I have wondered before now whether Hayley’s chosen career in catering will pose problems. A commercial kitchen seems to be a very noisy, hectic place with challenging acoustics: pots and pans clattering, food preparation equipment making a racket, blending, mixing and chopping, cooking food hissing, bubbling and crackling, and stressed staff under pressure, too busy to think about deaf awareness. There’s likely to be no time in the heat of the moment to make sure they turn to face a colleague with hearing loss in order for them to be able to lip-read.

It’s something that’s been an undercurrent of concern but of course I’ve never voiced my worries to Hayley. Where there’s a will there’s a way and I’m sure there are many deaf chefs and other kitchen staff who manage really well.

Hayley’s been in the job for two months now and it doesn’t seem to have become a problem. It’s a very small kitchen, though a very busy one, so that probably helps. And the chefs are kind, friendly and patient and so far they’re really pleased with Hayley’s progress. She’s willing to learn and enthusiastically gets on with all the tasks they set her. And she seems to pass muster when the kitchen’s at its frenzied peak, when the food orders hit the fan and the chips are down, so to speak.

Though Hayley did surprise me when she came home shocked by some of the ripe language and outbursts that fill the kitchen when the going gets hot.

“Hayley, have you really never watched any of the chef programmes on the telly?” I ask her.

“Well yes but that’s on the telly,” says Hayley. “And the chefs are really nice so I didn’t expect it.” Not that she’s bothered, just surprised; she finds it quite funny. And none of it has been directed at her so far, so that’s a bonus!

Hayley’s loving being in the real world of work and she knows what to do if she can’t stand the heat – but I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.

Please note image is not of Hayley

Will Hayley quit college?

It looks like there could be changes ahead for Hayley as she’s struggling at college and hankering to be out at work…

Tuesday evening, on the stairs

“Mum, can I talk to you a minute?”

That’s very formal for Hayley, she normally just rabbits away in your ear at a hundred miles an hour, whatever you’re doing, following you up the stairs or into the bathroom, out to empty the bin…

An appointment request isn’t her style, must be serious. I dump the washing basket down and sit on the stairs. Hayley plonks down beside me, her little face anxious, fidgeting with her fingernails.

“What’s up my lovely?”

“I don’t want to go to college any more. I hate all the written work, I can’t do it, it’s boring. I want to get an apprenticeship instead, then I can earn money as well and cook and not do the written stuff.”

Teacher Helping Students Training To Work In Catering

Once she starts, it pours out of her in a woeful, excitable torrent.

I guess it was only a matter of time before the novelty wore off. College was great compared to school – Hayley enjoyed feeling grown up, made new friends, loved the practical work they do on her Hospitality and Catering course.

But, just like at school, she’s once again floundering. There’s too much theory and too many written assignments going on for Hayley’s liking, when all she wants to do is get in the kitchen and cook, and learn front of house in the college restaurants, which they do two days a week.

I’m not really sure what to say. Instinctively I want to tell her to go for it, take up an apprenticeship – I’m sure she’d make a success of it.

Hayley is very practical. She loves to work, has had various jobs since she was 14 and currently works weekends at a local farm amusement park in their cafes.

And the girl does have an acquired a taste for earning wages…

The problem is Hayley’s always struggled with academic/abstract things. I don’t know how much is down to her deafness, or a combination of that and associated difficulties, including auditory memory problem and slow processing skills.

I think back to the initial open day at college when they pointed out how much higher a salary people working in catering and hospitality get when they have a qualification, compared to those who do not.

I remind Hayley of this, try to encourage the longer term view. It’d be such a shame not to enter her chosen career at as highly qualified a level as possible.

At least if she just completes this first year, hopefully gets her English and Maths grade C too, which I’m told she needs in order to attain the diploma, then maybe she can look for a decent apprenticeship.

Hmm. I tell her to stick it out, just this first year at least. I agree to line up some Maths tuition starting this month, from a tutor who helped a friend’s daughter.

Just like school and GCSEs, it’s got to be head down, bite your lip and get through these next few months. Then move on if that’s what she wants, venture out into the world of work.

A great start at college

College life turns out to be keeping Hayley pretty busy but also very happy

Saturday morning, in the garden…

I’m standing by the washing line pegging out flappy rows of little white chef’s jackets and aprons, making the most of this glorious autumn sunshine.

Hayley is four weeks in at her catering and hospitality course at college, and after the initial packed itinerary of welcome meetings, admin, food hygiene exams and general sorting out, they got down to work pretty quickly.

This has been the busiest week yet. Hayley and her fellow students have been cooking a range of delights for the restaurant at college, including pea soup, the vivid hues of which I’ve just about managed to get out of the chef’s whites (who was it thought of making chef’s uniforms white…!)

Teacher Helping Students Training To Work In Catering

And Hayley is in bed, having a well-earned lie in.

It’s been full on, very different from the school days that saw her home by 3.20pm each day.

She’s now got long days and an hour’s train commute, so most often she’s out the door by 7.25am, and likely not back in until 6.30pm. Then there are the early starts two days a week when they have to prepare food for breakfast in the restaurant, so she’s gone from here by 6.45am – before I’m even out of bed!

But the amazing thing is that she’s doing it. And she’s managing it all by herself – by that, I mean classes and college life too. And she’s happy. Bingo!

After all the struggles through school years – with her deafness, specific learning difficulties, slow processing skills, friendship and bullying issues, rubbish support from school – she seems to be not just coping but flying.

And it’s just as well because I’ve barely seen her to ask, let alone had a chance to offer help of any sort.

Whereas at school there’s still that umbilical tie to your offspring, communicating with teachers, flurries of emails about progress/homework/uniform, and you’re kept in the loop as the parent ultimately responsible – suddenly it’s cast off time. It’s all down to them whether they sink or swim.

We’ve managed only a few snatched little conversations or texts from the train, because she’s been very busy with her social life too, going out with new friends straight after college (yes!!).

But she can hear okay with just her hearing aids, in the small classrooms and apparently even in the huge kitchens; her lecturers make sure she knows what she should be doing. She seems to be able to keep up with note taking and understand everything.

She’s exhausted but she’s loving her new life at college, making great headway, no intention of sinking.

It was a bit alien, and worrying, not being able to grill her closely about how she’s coping, but as it turns out no there’s no need for me to be concerned or even involved. It feels strange but liberating to be free from micro managing Hayley’s life and she certainly seems happy with the situation.

Hayley’s earning money!

Hayley’s got a new job, a budding fledgling bank account and friends – the girl’s going places

Saturday morning, in the car

‘OMG! I can’t believe it, Mum look!’

I resist the temptation to squint at Hayley’s mobile screen as I’m driving.

‘How about just tell me so I can keep my eyes on the road – is it good or bad?’

I can’t tell from the exact nature of the shriek but veering towards good rather than tragic I’d say.

‘I’ve been paid over £100!’

Extreme close-up of hand holding a modern smartphone with a generic mobile banking app running. This is a version with Pound symbol. Note to inspector, concerning copyright etc: The whole screen (every single graphic element, including battery indicator) is designed by myself.

I’m driving Hayley to work – her new weekend job at a big children’s amusement farm near us. It really is the Holy Grail of the teenage job market in this area – and she’s just seen her first month’s wages in her online bank account.

Hayley can still barely believe she’s got the job; the competition is huge. It took a lengthy application form, complete with points-based psychological personality profiling scenarios to respond to, then a four-hour team-based assessment evening with 40 other applicants – and hallelujah she got it!

She didn’t mention her deafness, although of course her hearing aids are visible. We’d decided not to put it on the application form either as she needed no support to communicate – with her hearing aids plus a little lip reading she gets on fine.

I do wonder if it would’ve made a difference had she flagged it up. We’ve debated in previous job applications whether or not to include it, deciding on the ‘let’s not give them any reason to turn her down, illegal discrimination or not, and bring it up later’ approach.

I don’t believe people are deliberately discriminatory but I suspect often, through lack of knowledge, some might imagine deafness will present too many difficulties so it’s easier to just sift out the application, perhaps for other reasons.

I know not everyone would agree, but I think deaf and proud guerrilla-style is the effective way forward for Hayley in these instances. Get in the door, then there’s the chance to prove yourself, that your abilities are as good as anyone else’s.

So Hayley’s doing weekend shifts, some on the activities side but mostly in their cafes. This is great because she’s aiming for a career as a chef and her hospitality and catering college course lined up for September requires students to have a part-time catering job to support studies.

Hayley couldn’t be more thrilled. That girl loves to work, the money’s just an added bonus for her.

She loves it – the uniform, the team meetings, doesn’t even mind getting up at 7am on a Sunday morning (no me neither, honest…). She’s made friends too, which is fantastic; school’s been a struggle socially all the way along.

Already it’s done lots for her self-esteem. At 5.30pm when they all troop out, the farm army of weekend workers, it’s so good to see her happy little face, enjoying being part of something worth having.

I know she should be spending those hours revising, I’ve clocked the looks from other parents of Year 11s, but as far as I’m concerned Hayley needs mates, self-esteem and a solid work record more than she needs top grades.

Hayley’s deafness rules out a career as an RAF chef

It’s time to start thinking seriously about future options for Hayley and already plans have been upended, so now an alternative must be decided…

Wednesday afternoon, at a college open event

Hayley’s eyes are shining, a subtle wrestling match is taking place on her face as the corners of her mouth keep trying to push into a big grin, but she’s determined to play it cool.

We’re being shown around a catering college by a very professional and polished course tutor who is also a restaurateur at the upmarket restaurant operated by the students there as part of their training.

The tutor explains that they learn front of house skills, including flambéing and barista qualifications. Also, in the next academic year they are adding patisserie and confectionary skills to the course. This makes Hayley’s eyes light up even more, a child in a sweet shop!

Teacher Helping Students Training To Work In Catering

“Hayley has always loved cooking”

Hayley has always loved cooking, and has had some success in young chef contests. I think she enjoys it because having a hearing loss doesn’t matter – she can focus on the task assigned without constantly struggling to make sure she’s not missed out on anything.

I’m so pleased she’s thrilled about it because until a couple of weeks ago she had her heart set on other plans.

At a school careers fair last year, an RAF careers officer had said they were desperate for chefs and would take recruits at 16. After some square bashing she’d get catering training, gaining an NVQ, all on a wage most teenagers can only dream about.

With three years spent at Air Training Corps, which she’s loved and which has given her fantastic adventures, including flying a plane, target shooting and mountaineering, an RAF career seemed a natural progression.

They took her details and have called her a few times since last year to see if she’s still interested. So now she’s in Year 11, I suggested she call them to apply.

“Hearing loss ruled applicants out”

The next step, they said, was for her to check the eligibility criteria online. I logged onto the site and had a bit of a shock – it said a significant hearing loss ruled applicants out.

I phoned and asked what ‘significant’ meant, explained Hayley had a moderate loss and wore two hearing aids and his reply hit me like a stone. If the loss is enough to require hearing aids, the RAF can’t take her.

“It never occurred to me that deafness would be a problem”

How could I have been so naïve and not realised before now? I felt awful, having encouraged her to go for it, aim towards an RAF career. It never occurred to me that deafness would be a problem. Had she wanted to be a fighter pilot perhaps, but a chef?

Hayley was very disappointed but took it well, though she did ask about equality laws and I said I guess some employers such as the Forces are exempt from discrimination.

Onwards and upwards with a new plan. With Hayley’s boundless enthusiasm for life, I figured it was time to get her excited about college again. She’d first loved the idea when she found herself in those very kitchens two years ago taking part in a competition cook-off.

And by the time we’d finished our tour on the open evening, Hayley was sold. She’s going to get her application form in, hopefully be interviewed by Christmas and will know if she’s been offered a place by January.

All very exciting and fingers crossed it will focus her on working hard in her last school year in order to achieve the necessary grades.

Hayley’s final year at school

Tiger Mother is excited for Hayley’s future as she begins her final year at school

Wednesday, a calm empty kitchen after the morning chaos

Oh the freshness of the new school year, the hope and renewed enthusiasm. Clean copy books, new haircuts, unladdered tights, and, dare I say it, clean hearing aids. Like springtime in autumn. And it’s Hayley’s final year. It’ll be an uphill slog to get through GCSEs before deciding next options.

Catering is absolutely her thing, ever since she won a first prize trophy for cake baking aged 11. There’s something about cooking – where deafness doesn’t matter, where you can focus and disappear into your own little world of creating delicious things – that appeals to her. So she’s deciding whether to gain an NVQ at catering college or try for an apprenticeship.

Students in a school hallway

Summer’s been busy – working in a coffee shop, baking and waitressing, and also washing up in a pub where the chefs let her help with food prep. All this experience is like money in the bank for Hayley – far more valuable to her than any amount of exam certificates. Hayley isn’t one of the A-star students; her targets are Cs or B.Techs, which will be a struggle, but she doesn’t mind and, to be honest, neither do I. I’m ambitious for all my children, but only in as much as they throw themselves at life, grab every opportunity, work hard and be kind – that way they’ll be happy.

“What she lacks in academic ability she more than makes up for in sheer determination”

Hayley may not be university fodder – but why should that be the Holy Grail for every school-leaver anyway? But what she lacks in academic ability she more than makes up for in sheer determination, conscientiousness and common sense. She’s a trier and a grafter and has turned her disadvantages into advantages; with her deafness and other learning and social communication difficulties, she’s learnt perseverance and gained strength.

Hayley will be the first to offer help and to say yes to any challenge, whether it’s marching the beaches of Normandy with air cadets to raise money for wounded soldiers (tick), zip-wiring into an icy Welsh mountain lake (tick), or competing in tough cook-offs in Young Chef contests every year at school since Year 7 (four ticks). It’s all helped boost her confidence and self-esteem, along with NDCS events she’s attended.

“She might be about to surprise the lot of us by joining the RAF”

And here’s a turn up that’s astounded her brothers – she might be about to surprise the lot of us by joining the RAF. At school, an RAF careers officer said they were desperate for chefs and would take her at 16. After some basic military training she’d get catering training, gaining an NVQ, all on a wage most teenagers can only dream about.

What a thought; little Hayley at 16 off in the big, wide world. Finally being judged by her practical abilities and lovely helpful self, not how she performs in class. Free to fit in and make friends, away from the rigid confines and expectations of peers at school, free to be who she is and blossom into a young adult. I’ve long felt things will be better for Hayley when she’s left school behind, whatever path she follows.

I’m so excited for Hayley. I’ve always told her the sky’s the limit – and it really is…

Deaf teen in young chef contest

Five minutes to go in the young chef contest semi-finals, but Tiger Mother’s anxious that Hayley won’t get her food out on time…

The tension is high, the stress levels producing waves in the air so thick you could slice them with a knife.

It’s a cook-off in the district semi-final of a national young chef contest and Hayley is in a huge kitchen, competing against nine other under-16s.

They each have to cook a fancy three-course meal for two, in under two hours.

We nervy parents and supporters are waiting beside a partitioned-off area where there are dining tables laid by each contestant, ready for them to serve up the food to be judged by the top chefs currently watching their every move in the kitchen.

Five minutes to go. And, while the other tables are now laden with the other contestants’ offerings, Hayley’s place settings are entirely empty; the little vase containing a flower that she’s placed on her waits, expectantly, all alone.

I won’t panic. We are a very last-minute family, skilled in achieving small miracles within tenths of a second tolerance.

The clock’s second hand jerks closer to the deadline. Four minutes.

Then Hayley emerges through the kitchen doors, soup bowls held aloft and I can feel the heat from her flushed cheeks as she steams past and sets them on the table.

She’s looking stressed but cheerful.

Two minutes later and she’s out again – it’s the main course, yes!

And she’s back again in less than a minute, running, desserts in hand and finally on the table. I want to faint from relief!

Now we wait as the chefs taste, confer and make their final decisions.

The young chefs are summoned in, we all gather round to listen. Only four contestants are to go through to the next round.

Hayley is not one of them.

A couple of the others seemclose to tears, one particularly overly confident boy  looks like a deflated soufflé.

I don’t need to watch Hayley’s face. I know she will be a good loser.  She’s just pleased that she did her best and got the three courses out.

“Hayley loves to cook”

Hayley loves to cook. With her hearing loss, I think the attraction of cooking is that it’s something she can do  without having to rely on ongoing instructions or complicated team communication.

She’s an old hand at this competition, it’s the fourth year she’s entered and the second year she’s got through to the district semi-final.

And she has the confidence and determination to pull it off – as well as the maturity and experience to take losing on the chin and offer congratulations to the others.

“She struggles socially and doesn’t get support others do from close friendship groups”

It wasn’t always this way, but lots of things have helped. As she struggles socially and doesn’t get support others do from close friendship groups, I always encourage her to join in everything she can.

NDCS events, local NDCS group outings, Guides and Air Training Corps (ATC) have all played their part in boosting her self-esteem.

We’re lucky enough to live in a community where people are supportive. And where people who know her have heard of her reputation for enthusiasm, determination and the willingness to get stuck into whatever’s going on.

It’s really starting to mark her out, define her. She’s recently been asked to babysit, and to help out at a function doing waitressing, and she’s even been invited to spend a day with a chef at a top local restaurant.

“We’re doing all we can to broaden her experience”

While the academic side of things remains an uphill struggle, and always a battle to get her the support she needs, I feel we’re doing all we can to broaden her experience and bolster her chances of a good career in the food world, which is her ultimate ambition.

Hayley for Master Chef, yay!