Chef Aaron Watson made the transition from restaurant kitchens to the care sector and has never looked back. In the last year he was crowned Care Chef of the Year by the NACC and is passionate about leading his team at Primrose Bank to create a centre of excellence for care catering in the North of England.

How did you get into the hospitality industry?

I actually started off as front of house in pubs and ended up being thrown in the kitchen to a cover staff absence. I really enjoyed it so I decided to go back to college to study Professional Cookery. I competed in the Nestle Toque D’or while at college and it was a great experience even though somebody set the fire alarm off. We had to evacuate for 20 minutes whilst the rack of lamb was in the oven. I was also a national finalist in the National Seafood Competition.

What do you love about working in the Care sector?

Your food makes a real difference to people’s lives and you see it first-hand, whether that is in the happiness they have after eating a meal, improving resident’s health or weight through tailored diets or reminiscing about food experiences through their life and being able to help recreate that. You aren’t focused on TripAdvisor reviews, restaurant write-ups or weekly turnover. There is a freedom to play with menus and use great ingredients and we have fantastic equipment and a modern kitchen. You learn a lot of skills which you don’t in other sectors and focus on nutrition, texture modification for those with dysphagia and catering for cultural diets. The hours are good, hardly any late nights, no split shifts, and every other weekend off.

How did it feel to win Care Chef of the Year in 2021?

It was a great experience and very unexpected as I had only moved to the care sector a couple of months before Covid hit so I really didn’t expect to win and only took part to see what other care chefs were doing and to get some new ideas.

Tell us about Primrose Bank, the food and the philosophy behind it?

It’s an independent care home and has been run by the same family for over 30 years. We locally source as much produce as possible using small independent suppliers where we can. All the catering team are NACC members and we have a focus on training and development.

Our aim is to offer restaurant quality food that you might not expect to see in the care sector, whilst looking after the individual residents’ dietary requirements.

How would you like to see the industry improve?  

I think things are heading in the right direction. When I started it was always seen as a macho thing to work 100+ hour weeks and I was guilty of this too until I was so run down and started to suffer from depression. I think over the years the industry has lost so many talented people due to the lifestyle expected of them. When it comes to the care catering sector, it would be brilliant to see it recognised more widely as the incredibly skilled industry it is.