Gary Maclean, chef lecturer and winner of MasterChef: The Professionals 2016, talks about the importance of dual professionalism in his career.
"One of the main reasons I won the show was because I’m a teacher. When you stand in front of a class you’re being judged by 20 people, twice a day. That’s pretty good preparation for the pressures of MasterChef. Teachers also plan carefully. You can’t have chaos in a training kitchen when everything has to run on time. And I think that helped me too in the competition.
“As teachers we are all seeking to learn and hone our skills. And I think this desire to keep on learning helped me grow throughout MasterChef.”
Gary, a former student at City of Glasgow College, has taught for more than 16 years at his alma mater, having started as a part-time lecturer while working in the industry.
Professional cookery course
Gary currently delivers the Higher National Diploma first and second year professional cookery course at the college. He also oversees the Prince’s Trust Get into Cooking classes, as well as training for trainee butchers, bakers and fishmongers, working with Morrisons supermarket. He also oversees all evening classes.
It was his former lecturer and mentor at the college, Willie McCurrach, head of its School for Food, Hospitality and Tourism, who invited him to try teaching one day a week.
“I would come to college on Wednesdays to teach and work in the industry the rest of the week,”
says Gary. “Teaching was my break from running restaurants. I hadn’t thought about it as a possible career, but 16 years on I’m still here. It makes me proud to say I’m a teacher. I just love it.”
That close relationship between industry and teaching that characterised the early part of Gary’s career is still very much a part of the teaching practice and professional ethos in the school.
Culinary competions and events
Gary and his colleagues regularly attend culinary competitions – Gary has won several other competitions in his time – and professional events in the UK and overseas. The department also
has links with the industry, and the curriculum is reinforced with input from the restaurant business and food producers.
“As a chef lecturer it’s really important to know what’s going on out there. Staff are going out on courses, such as molecular gastronomy, and bringing that knowledge back with them and sharing it,” Gary says.
Gary’s vocational skills and knowledge are complemented by years of experience as a teacher and a Teaching Qualification in Further Education (TQFE) from the University of Dundee. Gary has also recently completed a coaching course.
Every member of staff at City of Glasgow College is expected to gain a teaching qualification. And teachers are expected to work two days a year in their industry, where applicable, to keep their knowledge and skills up to date. Updating and specialist courses are also advertised at the college and may involve teachers travelling abroad.
The food and catering industries have also changed enormously in recent years. This, in turn, impacts on the way Gary and his team approach teaching. As well as political issues, like sourcing local and sustainable ingredients, and animal welfare, there is also the TV factor.
“The whole TV thing has really encouraged young people to look at catering as a career. In the past five years our HND programme numbers have doubled,” Gary says. “But it does mean that we have become very good at making sure that, from day one, our students have a realistic idea of what is possible. Not everyone is going to be a head chef in a top kitchen in London or New York.”
Professional kitchens come with a reputation of being unforgiving workplaces. In terms of his approach to teaching Gary is very much a believer in supporting learners.
“We are preparing people for work in professional catering, which can be a tough environment. But we’re not trying to replicate the sort of Gordon Ramsay-style TV kitchen. Some students need a softly, softly approach, while others will need a bit of a push. As a teacher it’s about using your professional and personal judgement.
“I certainly don’t remember learning anything from feeling bad about myself. Many MasterChef winners and competitors have used their success in the contest to open restaurants, something Gary had already done earlier in his career.
“The whole college, from the principal down, is backing me 100 per cent and I want to make sure the college can get as much as possible out of my winning MasterChef. I don’t think I would get that level of support in the industry.”