A FORMER Hartlepool College of Further Education apprentice who represented his college at a national skills competition has become one of the youngest restaurant owners in the country.

Jack Hunter from Hartlepool, is a former student at English Martyrs School and Hartlepool College of FE where he studied a Level 2 in Hospitality and Catering and Level 3 in Professional Cookery.

The 20-year-old entrepreneur, who was also an apprentice at Krimo’s restaurant on the marina, is opening Hunter’s Restaurant on Hartlepool Marina’s bustling Navigation Point later this month (February).

Jack said: “I started off in desserts and cold starters, then I moved on to hot starters and it took off from there.

“Working as an apprentice taught me how to handle responsibility. I had to learn the fundamentals fast. You have to get it right and move quickly because of the high pressuredenvironment of a fully working restaurant.

“In college you can take your time but in the workplace you get shown once and then it’s on your head. You get rewarded for working hard. In two years as an apprentice I moved frombeing a commis chef to sous chef level.

“To get a full qualification and to work at the same time was important to me, I was never good at the academic side of school and I just wanted to get out and work. The number ofoptions at Hartlepool College of Further Education was incredible. They really catered for my needs. If I didn’t have the apprenticeship I wouldn’t be where I am now.”

Now that Jack has completed his apprenticeship he’s decided it’s the right time to open his own restaurant and to work for himself.

“I had a couple of jobs but I always had my own way of thinking. Even in college I had my own creative flair and vision. I always strived to get it right, my way,” he said.

“I raised my own money and I got help from my dad, a bank loan and money from other investors but the name on the lease is mine and at the end of the day it all rests on myshoulders.

“We’re doing modern British food. There are a few crowd pleasers like burgers and steaks and we have a vegan menu too. We’re using locally sourced produce. I’ve personally been outto where we get our fish from and where we get our meat and everything has had to pass my examination.

“Everything in the restaurant has its own little story,” Jack said as he was pointing to the wood that adorns the walls, the young chef explained that the logs were chopped by his ownhand, adding a personal touch to his mission of opening his own place.

“It’s always been my dream to open my own restaurant I just didn’t think it would be this early. I don’t feel like it’s real just yet. I had someone ring up and try to book for when we’re openand I couldn’t believe they wanted to eat at my place. I know there is going to be a day where it hits me but until the first dish is plated up and sent out I’ll be chilled out. “

For Jack, this restaurant is a culmination of a lifelong love for food and a number of years of hard work.

“I’ve always been interested in food from a tiny age. I found my own way to cook. My dad was always cooking and I always used to jump in and help him and there are pictures of mehelping with the Christmas dinner at 7 years old.

“I used to sit in the shopping trolley with my own list and my mam used to dot me about the supermarket for my own ingredients. I made a soufflé for Christmas day when I was 9 yearsold.”

Jack represented Hartlepool College at the World Skills Competition at University College in Birmingham. The competition brings together apprentices from across the country tocompete to be the best in their chosen skills.

Jack made it to the regional heats where he was beaten by an apprentice from world class chef Michel Roux Jr.

“For the competition we had to cook two dishes in an hour. I chose a duck dish and a chocolate soufflé. I remember the duck because it was a nightmare.”

Kevin Dove, Jack’s teacher at Hartlepool College of Further Education, said: “The competition made him realise the level he wanted to work at.

“Being surrounded by those types of people and to rub shoulders with such great chefs made him realise what he was capable of.”

Jack said: “Going to Birmingham there’s lots of TV Programmes and important competitions held there so just being in the same area where one of your favourite chefs are and standingamongst them is a really good feeling. You see them all and they’ve got all their pictures along the corridors as you walk up and down.

“Who I was working with and against in that competition put me in really good stead with where I wanted to go in my career and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the college’shelp throughout my apprenticeship.

“I think apprenticeships definitely open doors for you and any young person with even the slightest interest in doing one should.

“It’s about experience. You’re not going to get any better experience than you would if you’re working in the field you want to be working in. So the quicker you can get your foot in thedoor, the better, in my eyes.”