As North West Regional College’s (NWRC) Hospitality and Catering Lecturer Douglas Walker hung up his chef’s apron for the last time, he spent his final day working for the college being reunited with two of his former students, Noel Ward and Andrew Taylor, based at the White Horse Hotel in Campsie.
Retirement now beckons for Douglas, following a varied career in which he has worked in restaurants and hotels in countries across Europe. His final destination was NWRC, where he has dedicated three decades to training up new generations of chefs, bakers, pâtissiers, and chocolatiers.
And with so many former students now happily in successful jobs within the Hospitality and Tourism Industry, Douglas looks back on a career in which he and his colleagues have worked to forge strong and sustainable connections with local employers, building new careers and strengthening the local economy.
“The best thing I have found about teaching is giving students the opportunity to go and work in the industry,” said Douglas.
“I’m happy to meet up again with my former student Noel Ward, who has been head chef of the White Horse Hotel for 20 years, and Andrew Taylor, who has worked hard and is now junior sous chef at the hotel.
“These college and employer connections have been extremely important for the growth of the Hospitality sector.
“We’ve also been fortunate over the years to send our students to Michelin Starred restaurants like Le Manoir and Gidleigh Park, Devon.
“We have also sent four students to the Institute for Ireland Leuven, Belgium, which has given them a great experience in the industry.”
After training as a chef in the 1970s, achieving his City & Guild qualifications, Douglas travelled to London to work as a commis chef and joined a group of hotels.
He later gained his qualifications in teaching and went on to work in Frankfurt, Hamburg, and Switzerland before returning to Northern Ireland to work at the Glen House Hotel, Eglinton.
“I had always thought about moving into teaching, and I enjoyed passing on my knowledge to others,” said Douglas.
“I started teaching part-time at NWIFHE as it was then in 1991 and I was also teaching Magee’s Ulster University 2nd year Hotel and Tourism students in their fine dining restaurant Martha Magee’s.
“I think I have taught every age range of students that came to NWRC, from School Links, Year 14 students preparing for life at University, Cookery for Entertainment which included adults from 18 to 80, Princes Trust, SEN students in both Strabane and the Strand Road campus and also a large number of adults in the community as far away as Sion Mills and Dungiven.
“I’ve also taught the Professional Cookery Course, Professional Chef’s Diploma, and the NVQ Level 1-3, as well as running NWRC’s Flying Clipper fine dining restaurant kitchen on a Wednesday lunch and a Thursday evening.
“I enjoyed teaching the Food Production Breads and Pastry Level 2-3 courses, and the hugely popular Chocolate skills courses.
“I have always had an interest in desserts, and as part of ‘Lecturers into Industry,’ I spent some time in the Pastry section at Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons and Raymond Blanc’s 2 Michelin Starred restaurant and hotel near Oxford.
“Since then I have managed to secure many work placements in the kitchens there for NVQ Level 3 students and also for a lecturer in our department.
“As a result of the contacts made, we organised a NI-wide College competition at NWRC’s Northland Road kitchens, judged by Mark Peregrine, head of the cookery school at Le Manoir.
“We always enjoy competition work in our department and we’re incredibly proud of the students who got through to the regional heats of the Toque d’ dor in Birmingham.”
Married to Ann for 40 years, and with three grown-up sons, Douglas says he’s looking forward to spending more time with his grandchildren and taking on some voluntary work following his retirement.
“I retire from NWRC with many happy memories,” he said. “I send my best to my colleagues as they continue to train and nurture our students.
“I would strongly recommend a career in Hospitality and Catering to any young person as it offers so many opportunities and although the work can be challenging at times, it will lead to a very interesting and rewarding career.”
Kathleen McCaul, Department Head of Hospitality and Catering at NWRC said: “We wish Douglas all the best for his retirement and we thank him for the many years he has given to the college.
“The work he has put into moulding our young talent in the field of hospitality and catering cannot be underestimated. His skills, dedication, and passion for the job will be missed.”
For information on Hospitality and Catering courses at NWRC – full time and part-time go to www.nwrc.ac.uk/apply
Douglas Walker, with his former students Noel Ward, who has been head chef of the White Horse Hotel for 20 years, and Andrew Taylor, junior sous chef at the hotel.