Aspiring Head Chef wins YMCA Progression of the Year Award

Jack McClarence

17-year-old Jack McClarence from Doncaster has won the ‘YMCA Progression of the Award’ for his remarkable transformation from a shy teenager into a committed cook. Jack shares his story… 

Jack is completely surprised by his award: 

“I didn’t really expect it to be honest. It feels like I’ve won a raffle – like a one in a million chance!” 

Jack’s journey has been one of self-discovery and overcoming childhood obstacles. Growing up, he had a chaotic home life. His large family - at the mercy of various landlords - frequently moved house, a source of continual frustration. Living with eight other siblings, Jack found peace - and money - hard to come by. Jack also struggled at school: 

“I didn’t put my head down to concentrate. I was always messing about or just didn’t turn up. I didn’t want to go to school - I disliked being around lots of people and there were too many people at school! It freaked me out and made me feel uncomfortable.”  

Fanatical about food 

To ease his anxiety, Jack was home-schooled by his mum and accessed the school curriculum online. At 16 he landed a kitchen job at The Grill Shed restaurant in Doncaster. Growing up, Jack always liked helping his mum to cook: 

“My mum used to run a homeless shelter and fed the homeless twice a week. I used to help her cook and plate up food. We used to make stews, pies, cakes and stuff like that. I quite liked that.” 

Whilst working at The Grill Shed, Jack’s mum heard about the YMCA Summer Study Programme through their local council. It proved to be a more intimate setting to learn without crowds of students. During his studies there, Jack’s tutor suggested an apprenticeship. It made sense for Jack to do it through his existing place of work.  

“Staying here is a win, win situation” 

Recognising Jack’s potential, The Grill Shed agreed to the YMCA apprenticeship scheme. This meant that Jack could learn key skills through his part time job there and also study part time at college, which enabled him to gain his English, Maths and Customer Service qualifications: 

“I thought, ‘Why can’t I do my apprenticeship where I’m already working?’ It would be a shame to do it elsewhere and The Grill Shed would lose out if I didn’t do their food preparation. By continuing my job here, I gain qualifications at the same time. I’m helping them out and they’re helping me when I go to college. Staying here is a win, win situation.”  

Developing valuable skills 

Jack has since been offered the role as Assistant Chef at The Grill Shed and takes pride in his work. He describes a typical day at the restaurant: 

“I enjoy working at The Grill Shed. When I arrive, I start prepping food for the day and make the burgers. After 6pm it starts getting busy. We can get really busy and we’ll all be rushing about, which is fun. I like serving food and seeing happy customers compliment the food and come back. Before we go home, we clear up and put all the pots away.” 

Jack has seen a change in himself: 

“Before, I wasn’t a talkative person. I used to feel more comfortable by myself and just keep my head down. I’ve learnt how to be more sociable and be a better chef. My time keeping has also got a lot better.” 

“One of my best employees” 

Chris Tate, Head Chef at The Grill Shed, is delighted with what Jack has achieved: 

“I’m really proud of him. I hope he’ll win more awards in future. Jack’s done really well as a chef - he came in not knowing anything and has become one of my best employees. He’s learnt a lot from me. Jack’s put a lot of work in and he’s on the same level as the rest of us. For a young person of his age, he’s doing fabulous. 

Apprenticeships are definitely a good idea for young people because it’s hard for them to land a job without any skills or knowledge. Through the YMCA, he’s gained qualifications and bettered himself through work experience. Jack has got a lot of work experience now and does a very good job. He’ll probably progress and be away!” 

“No regrets!” 

Having grown in confidence, skills and knowledge and gained useful industry qualifications, Jack’s future is looking bright: 

“I’d recommend doing an apprenticeship – it’s not the same as school or college. It’s got me out of my shell and I feel like my life has started. I’m proud that I’ve got my head down and they’ve given me a job at The Grill Shed. It’s good. 

I want to work my way up to Head Chef and have my own kitchen. I’m heading in the right direction. No regrets!” 

Central YMCA is an Ofsted accredited education provider that delivers vocational learning in 11 centres across the UK. Apprenticeships are a cost-effective way of recruiting new talent and upskilling existing staff.