THERE is a restaurant in north Essex where a host of hugely successful chefs honed their culinary skills.
These include, no less, a former winner of Masterchef the Professionals, the owners of a number of hugely successful eateries in and around Essex and many others working across the globe in their dream jobs.
Yet few people are taking up the opportunity to sample the fruits of the labour of those who are likely to form the next generation of top chefs, serving up top quality food on a regular basis at Colchester Institute's Balkerne Restaurant.
Martin Fordham, head of the college's Centre for Hospitality and Food Studies, has worked at the college for the past 30 years having previously worked at Le Talbooth in Dedham, and has headed up the department for the past six.
He fondly recalls the host of budding chefs and hospitality staff who have come and gone during that time and explains he actually stays in touch with a great many of them.
"I hear from a lot of them, quite a few come back and see us and pass on their experiences to the students, and others stay in the areas so we know what they are up to.
"Many have opened successful businesses of their own in the area and it is just so great to see how they are doing."
These include Steve Groves who having scooped the enviable title of Masterchef the Professionals champion, then went on to work with Michel Roux who at the time was a judge on the show.
"He came back and did a masterclass with students and he also invited a group to go down to see him where he is working with Michel."
Back when he was undertaking his qualifications in the kitchens of the Colchester Institute Steve would have learned on the job, as students do now, cooking up delicious meals for customers to the Balkerne Restaurant and also downstairs in the Colne Restaurant.
"The Colne is smaller, more of a brasserie that people can come in for lunch.
"And the Balkerne is more fine dining and a chance for the students to really test themselves with in depth and slightly more higher end dishes like wild mushrooms, shellfish and more exotic tastes.
"The first and second years will mainly be doing the lunch service and then the third years will be in on the evenings.
"And they are always overseen by tutors, who are skilled chefs, in the kitchens.
"It is basically a chance to get a really high quality meal and help the future generation of chefs and people who will be helping to run hotels and brasseries in the future.
"But we need people to come and eat the meals. We are making no profit on this, all the funds are going straight back into the students' learning and development," explains Martin.
With the students needing to produce food in order to learn the college has come up with ways to make good use of the dishes they produce if they are not sold in the two restaurants.
"We have a little shop that sells pastries and cakes and and students and visitors can buy eclairs and pastries to take home and also hot food for the students and staff and that obviously generates funds that can be spent on the ingredients.
"But the students are learning all aspects of hospitality, from processing bookings to welcoming guests, working the bar and getting drinks for them, taking orders, preparing and cooking the food and then down to serving it up.
"We need diners in order to do that and while we do have a really strong group of regular customers, and also relatives of students for whom we also have a specific event they are invited to, we really want to get the message out to more people," adds Martin.
The college has exciting new ventures in the pipeline too and already uses the most up to date technology for the students to train on including the hi-tech system used in most top hotels for sorting and organising bookings. which are done on-line.
"It means they are up to date and with a real head start on some other graduates because there aren't many colleges using them right now, and then they are set up for when they look for work," says Martin who also explains they have been working with Tiptree Jam to produce new dishes.
"They are a world renowned company, served pretty much all over the world and we are loving working with them to come up with new dishes.
"They are also very supportive of us and they donated a sum of money for us to replace the carpets in here for which we were so grateful.
"The students are really enjoying the opportunity and it is something we want to expand on, to look at other food producers we can team up with to come up with new recipes."
The students also use Maldon Salt and Mersea Oysters, regularly making trips to see them being dredged and recently a handful were chosen to appear with Essex superstar chef Jamie Oliver on his Channel 4 show Friday Night Feast.
"We also want to set up a chef's table evening, where guests can watch the food being prepared and chat about the process."
After three decades Martin says there is nothing better than seeing how well the students, many of whom often return to the college to speak to their counterparts, go on to do.
"I had a letter from a student who left here about eight or nine years ago and she now works as an executive chef on the British Virgin Islands.
"It gave me goosebumps when she told me she was literally living her dream. Cooking for celebrities and being flown out to amazing locations for events like a wedding or a party. She sent me photographs of white sand and it literally looked like paradise."
* The Balkerne Restaurant is open for lunch and dinner, and the Colne Restaurant for lunch, during term time. On-line bookings can be taken for the Balkerne 24 hours a day by visiting http://www.colchester.ac.uk and for the Colne e-mail chefs.reception@Colchester.ac.uk
This twist on the traditional Colchester pudding incorporates Wilkin and Sons raspberry jam and was dreamt up by lecturers and students at Colchester Institute who also came up with an idea for a cocktail using the special gin too.
The recipe for the pudding will make enough for around eight people and should be served in large Martini glasses.
150g caster sugar
Zest of one orange
3 egg yolks
1 vanilla pod cut in half lengthways and seeds scraped out
200ml double cream
100g Sweet Tip Raspberry Jam
25ml Tiptree Jam’s English Raspberry Gin
1 punnet fresh raspberries
300g mixed berries either fresh or frozen
50g caster sugar
100ml egg whites
200g caster sugar
Red food colouring (optional)
* Soak the Tapioca in some of the milk for an hour
* Place onto a medium heat with the remaining milk, vanilla pod, half of the sugar and the orange zest
* Gently simmer for about 20 minutes until soft and if the mixture becomes a little too thick during cooking add a little more milk.
* Remove from the heat and mix in the remaining sugar with the egg yolks and fold into the hot tapioca, allow to cool
* Whip the cream to soft peaks and fold into the tapioca, chill
* Warm the berries and sugar, remove from the heat and add gin to taste, chill
* To assemble, mix some gin with the raspberry jam and fresh raspberries, place in the bottom of the glass, place the chilled tapioca on top and finally spoon on the berries
* To make the meringue, whisk the egg whites with half of the sugar until they form soft peaks, add the rest of the sugar gradually, continue to whisk until firm, colour if required.
* Pipe the meringue on top of the fruits and brown with a blow torch - if you don't have one of those handy you can prepare the meringues in advance by piping onto baking parchment and drying in a low oven.
* Garnish with any remaining raspberries