When Leon Seraphin met the Queen at a Buckingham Palace reception, he offered to take her for a drink.
“We share a birthday on 21 April, you see. She stood me up this year, but there’s always next year,” he chuckles.
“Not bad for a lad from Hackney who has no formal qualifications,” he says. “My school closed down when I was 13, and I was in and out of trouble with the police for the next 10 years. Things like petty theft, and a bit of cannabis.”
Leon, who is now 29, says his life changed for the better when he started training at as a chef at the Hoxton Apprentice five years ago.
He is just one of more than 150 young unemployed people who have been given the chance to train at the restaurant in Hoxton Square in that time and go on to build careers in the catering industry.
After graduating as the restaurant’s apprentice of the year in 2004, Leon, who lives just over the borough border in Manor House, served three years as commis chef at White’s Gentlemen’s Club in Mayfair before a short spell as chef de partie at the Commonwealth Club.
He returned to the Hoxton Apprentice last year as as chef de partie and was soon promoted to senior sous chef; he ran the kitchen for six months prior to head chef Tim Bateman being recruited.
The Queen is just one of the many celebrities he has met since then.
On the day we met he had been up since 4am to prepare a breakfast with his colleagues for a reception at Downing Street, where he met Prime Minister Gordon Brown and former Secretary of State for Communities, Hazel Blears. He says:
“Gordon Brown was different from what I expected: I thought he would be a grumpy soand-so but he was really friendly and understood what The Hoxton Apprentice is all about.
Hazel Blears was very bubbly and spoke very highly about the work we do here.”
Leon was inspired to be a chef by watching his mother Heather cooking West Indian food at home and he admires celebrity chef Marco Pierre White.
He says: “I like his recipes, the way he puts things together and his calmness – he can be fiery but when he is cooking he is calm and relaxed.”
And Leon aspires to have his own restaurant too. He explains: “From here I’d like to go and work in a Michelin-starred restaurant, working under extreme pressure for a couple of years. Then within about five years, I’d like to take all I’ve learned back where it all started – Hackney – to open a multicultural restaurant with something for everyone.”
- 1980 Born in Hackney
- 2004 Starts working as trainee chef at Hoxton Apprentice & is named apprentice of the year
- 2004 Begins working at White’s Gentlemen’s Club in Mayfair
- 2008 Spends six months as chef de partie at the Commonwealth Club
- 2008 Returns to Hoxton Apprentice as chef de partie but is soon promoted to senior sous chef
To offer an apprentice a job, or become an apprentice, call Deviyani Barber on: 020 7749 2800 or visit: www.hoxtonapprentice.com
Page updated: 15 Jun 2010