Catherine Farinha Gives an Introspective into the Last Ten Years of The Chefs’ Forum

10 years ago I was made redundant. I had been working for a food magazine and I was pregnant with my third child. It was a time to think on my feet and make some hard decisions. I knew I could accept my lot or I could fight to keep myself and my family afloat.

I launched Red Cherry (Bristol) and I’ve never looked back. The Chefs’ Forum was the marketing platform I created to enable my PR clients to talk to chefs in industry – as well as tomorrow’s chefs who were coming through the colleges.

It was this mix of people who wanted to meet each other and learn from each other that has formed the bedrock of The Chefs’ Forum and over the years nothing has changed. I still get up every morning looking forward to helping my clients to get their products heard about and all our wonderful chefs to enjoy a richer profession.

There were a fair few naysayers along the way (who know who they are), who loved to discourage my ambition, telling me that I was taking on too much being a mum of three, that London was too big for me and to avoid launching there… that The Chefs’ Forum would be a ‘flash in the pan’, would never last and was too commercial…these people weren’t marketeers and didn’t have the vision that we did.

In 2013 my good friend Alexandra Duncan joined me as National Business Manager to help grow the business from two regions to eleven and has been a wonderful asset to the business.

It’s been ten amazing years of being privileged enough to work with some of the finest chefs in the country and over thirty catering colleges.

There have been many highlights but I’d like to mention a few that stand out.

We launched in London in 2015 at Westminster Kingsway College with Pierre Koffmann, Ruth Rogers, Cyrus Todiwala assisted by Arthur Potts Dawson and we’ve now got an Academy at West London College in its third year.

The Chefs’ Forum became a registered trademark in 2016.

We have successfully run multiple marketing campaigns with a plethora of major chef brands including Bragard, Chef Works, Adande, Rational, Mitchell & Cooper and Robot Coupe to name just a few.

But Red Cherry is not just about the big brands that everybody has heard of. Our bedrock business is about helping smaller brands break through and become the bigger names of tomorrow.

However, doing marketing is just one part of what we do and it’s an important part. But, where we really have started to make a difference is in colleges focusing on supporting young chefs

The chefs that I originally worked with, like Josh Eggleton and Chris Wicks in Bristol had found that they weren’t recruiting enough young chefs for their businesses and didn’t seem to be communicating in the best way with catering colleges. So for me it was all about oiling those wheels of communication.  With my marketing, advertising and sponsorship background, I saw the commercial opportunities of inviting industry brands to these quarterly meetings with chefs and colleges.  It gained its own momentum from there.

We work formally with colleges themselves to give their students work experience

We give the students work experience by preparing and serving food at our various industry events – This reached a peak of forty per year before the pandemic.

We then invite the chefs that we are working with at those events back into the colleges to teach them.  It becomes part of the colleges formal curriculum enrichment programme and we pay the chefs as guest lecturers for this, as we appreciate they are taking time out of their restaurant – mostly on their days off.  We can then ask them to teach in multiple colleges and we now have six academies nationally. There is a big emphasis on employer engagement as part of the national curriculum this helps a lot.

2016 saw the launch of the first Chefs’ Forum Academy at Weston College… we now have six Chefs’ Forum Academies with another three set to launch this year -Our plan is to have a Chefs’ Forum Academy in every region of the UK.

Every teaching Monday or Tuesday of the academic year, we have chefs and industry experts within a two-hour radius into a college we work with. We are bringing in Michelin starred chefs, pastry chefs, game keepers, chocolatiers, costermongers, butchers, and fishmongers. They talk about best practice, husbandry and management as well as teaching culinary skills.

We are seeing a lot of colleges having to cut catering as a subject because it’s expensive to run as opposed to tourism or business studies which is cheaper as there is no equipment involved.  We have seen colleges with so much old equipment and ovens. We then have to help out with brands that work with us to give them equipment that may have previously been used in demos or exhibitions. There definitely needs to be more funding.  We also work with schools to try to get them think about catering or hospitality as a career.

In 2019, James Martin, Simon Wood, Lisa Goodwin-Allen and Andrew Nutter helped us launch our Manchester chapter at The Manchester College and our Academy there is now in its third year.

Overall it’s been an incredible ten years but during lockdown we began a new chapter of producing our very own publications and to do this I sought out Chandos Elletson, one of the original founders of Restaurant Magazine and The World’s 50 best Restaurants to help us create original content and we have got off to a flying start. We published The Great Game Guide and the Wild Alaska Seafood Guide in 2021, 2022 will see the launch of The Chefs’ Knowledge – A new culinary repertoire.

The new team has swelled with the addition of Lee Yarlett, Alice Kamara and Alicia Kember and we produce everything we do in-house. I’m very proud of the team we have assembled. You need to be a special sort of person to work within The Chefs’ Forum as we are often making quite big asks of brands or chefs.

So you need to be resilient and tenacious and have very thick skins. We are often told no, or asked to do “impossible” things but our hard work and determination when it pays off is very fulfilling.

My belief for the next ten years is undiminished. Aim for the sky as there are no limits. You get out what you put in for most careers. You also really have to believe in yourself and take opportunities as they arise. If you over-think things too much you can often miss out on an opportunity by being scared it won’t work – so jump at a chance and don’t be afraid of failures or things going wrong.

Take a look at the film of our tenth birthday celebration at Dakota Hotel in Manchester to see exactly why we love what we do.

Here’s to another ten years of curriculum enrichment, coupled with market-leading employer and brand engagement.