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Gary MacLean – Chef Lecturer City of Glasgow College

Chef Lecturer and past winner of Masterchef: The Professionals talks to ERA about how TV cookery shows can inspire catering students.

A Group of chefs in uniforms stand around a kitchen ready to work

A Masterchef who knows his onions – and makes sure his students do too.

The knives are out – and they’re always freshly sharpened! Because chefs from all over the UK dream of being crowned the winner of Masterchef: the Professionals, and the competition annually is fierce.

Compulsive viewing for all catering students, and for many working chefs as well, the programme is a sizzling mix of serious cookery competition and TV tension. The dreaded skills test in particular is often painful to watch. And reputations can be made – or broken – by a chef’s performance on camera. Many of those fighting it out in the Masterchef kitchen dream of having their own restaurants one day, lauded by the critics and perhaps with a coveted Michelin star.

But one outstanding winner has no such dream.

Gary Maclean has been a Chef Lecturer at the City of Glasgow for 16 years, initially part-time whilst working in the catering industry. He knows all about the pressures of a professional kitchen, but he is at his most passionate in his role as an educator – and he’s dedicated to inspiring and supporting his students.

Scotland’s First National Chef

After he won the Masterchef title in 2016, the college was immensely proud. So proud that they put his photo up on the building, where his image towered over thousands of passers-by (and still does), in recognition that this unassuming and gentle man was now a giant in the culinary world.

Since then, the Scottish Government has enlisted Gary to be Scotland’s first national chef. He’s on a mission to celebrate his country’s outstanding produce and show everyone how easy it is to cook from scratch, and he’s determined to succeed.

But Gary will never forsake his students for a life as a celebrity chef. His keenness to compete in culinary competitions is based on his belief that this enables him to push the boundaries and become the best he can be. This is the message he relays to his students: competing is a challenge that encourages excellence.

“My biggest thrill is teaching, and guiding my students towards careers in the industry that allow them to realise their dreams,” says Gary. “I entered Masterchef because the students all watched it and they used to say: “You could do that, chef” – so I wanted to prove them right!”

“The programme had been running for four weeks before I appeared on it,” he continues, “and they used to ask me every day if I’d watched it, talk about the skills test, and so on. I just used to say, “Oh yes, I watched it”, and try to keep a poker face. Then I appeared on the screen and it just shocked them all. They had no idea!”

Students watched the show even more avidly after Gary’s surprise appearance, and were desperate to know if he had won, but he wouldn’t let on. His students were left in suspense right until the final.

Gary attributes a lot of his ‘camera appeal’ on Masterchef to teaching.

“You have to be able to talk and cook at the same time,” he points out. “When I’m with students, I need to be able to answer questions, give feedback and also look as though I know what I’m doing in front of a whole group – which means being completely organised and prepared.”

“I love all aspects of cooking – from butchery to patisserie – but teaching is what I’m most passionate about. ”

The Importance of Teaching

It annoys Gary that teaching can be underrated.  “After I won Masterchef, I was on on BBC Breakfast and one guy congratulated me on beating “all those professional chefs”. I thought, what?!  I am a professional chef. And I teach other chefs. I’m proud to be doing that”.

He believes that a grounding in culinary education is a great basis for any chef’s career.

“In the UK we don’t have enough respect for culinary education. In many other countries, you need qualifications to be a chef. I hope that what I’ve achieved – with my students as well as with Masterchef – will persuade more head chefs and restaurant managers that sending their staff to college will pay dividends.”

Marcus Wareing spoke admiringly of Gary’s commitment, going on record to say: “If we get teachers like Gary in our colleges, we should let them flourish, let them inspire the young kids. He’s an inspiration and a credit to his profession.”

City of Glasgow College has a long waiting list for its catering courses and its two-year HND professional cookery course enjoys a high reputation in the industry. Gary is a very hands-on lecturer and teaches hot and cold kitchen, larder skills such as butchery, bakery and fishmongery, and at one point was also organising the menus for the entire college and teaching in the college’s Scholars restaurant once a week. His former students work in some of the UK’s top restaurants, including several with Michelins stars.

TV Cookery

He is convinced that TV cookery programmes have fuelled an interest in catering and made the industry more attractive to students. Having an ERA licence means that clips from these programmes can be used by teaching staff in classes and also that students can access them as part of blended and flipped learning. So, for example, they can watch Marcus Wareing demonstrate how to make Italian meringue and see Monica Galetti butcher a rabbit, as well as view a service in a top restaurant.

Having video clips of a demonstration of skill means that students can watch these repeatedly and learn from them or refresh their skills and knowledge. Educational establishments can incorporate these clips into the VLEs if they wish, and retain all of this material as long as they have an ERA licence.

Back to Gary:

“The variety and quality of some of these TV shows is amazing, and Masterchef is one of the best. Students can see industry professionals being tested on a wide variety of skills, and being judged by chefs at the top of their profession. The way the skills tests are filmed means you can see exactly what the judges are looking for. And it’s not just things like being able to fillet a fish, it’s basic hygiene practice and working under pressure, being organised and working tidily, tasting the food, deciding how to present it…it’s really exciting TV! And it’s not just being played out for the cameras – it’s an actual competition that just happens to be being recorded for the viewers.”

Gary’s life has been transformed since lifting the Masterchef trophy and his new role as national chef is going to take him out of the college kitchens a lot more – but he’ll never leave the profession that he loves.