A successful local chef who returned to education after ten years of working in the kitchen, says he would never have gone on to achieve a full honours degree without studying first at North West Regional College (NWRC).
Aaron McDevitt, who is now the Head Chef at The Lazy Gardener in Campsie, completed a Foundation Degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management at North West Regional College, and went on to graduate with a Degree in International Hospitality Management at Ulster University in Belfast.
He is now passing on his skills working as a part time lecturer at NWRC, which he combines with his full time job at the Lazy Gardener Café and Garden Centre.
But working in the Hospitality industry wasn’t always the path that the 34-year-old saw himself working in.
He explained: “I dropped out of my Degree in Social Work because I was working in a local restaurant to help pay my way and I realised that I liked that better than the course I was doing. I left my course and went into full time employment.
“I always knew that it wouldn’t be enough for me and that eventually I’d want to go back to education.”
Working in the city’s iconic Austin’s building, Aaron completed his NVQ Level 2 & 3 and was promoted to Head Chef at Café Mezzo, aged just 23.
The father of two said his life changed forever when he discovered the Foundation Degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management at NWRC.
“I arranged to meet Curriculum Manager Luane Quigley,” said Aaron. “It felt like the course was tailor made for me it had everything I wanted to study including Business, Marketing, Languages and Entrepreneurial skills.
“I felt comfortable as soon as I sat in the class. In fact I remember telling myself that one day, I’d be back teaching the class myself, and that’s exactly what I’ve done.
“The course was two years and with the help of the great team at the cafe I was able to fit it in around my full time job.
“In the second year there was a placement opportunity. A fellow student went to Disneyland and another went to Australia, but because I had a young daughter, I decided to stay local and managed to acquire a position in the Accounts office in Austin’s Department Store.
“The six months I spent there helped to me learn so much about what was going on behind the scenes and what budgets were allocated to what department.”
After graduating from his Foundation Degree course Aaron then undertook the Summer Bridging course that allowed him to directly transfer into the final year of a Full Honours Degree in International Hospitality Management at Ulster University.
“I spent the next year travelling to Belfast three days a week to finish my degree, but I knew I’d need it if I want to teach,” said Aaron, “it was tough going but honestly the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Two years ago he was approached by Desmond and Jacqui Knox, who own The Lazy Gardener Café, Farm Shop and Garden centre at Campsie and asked to manage the café side of the business.
“I haven’t looked back,” he said. “We are completely self-sufficient here growing all our own vegetables and baking our own bread, cakes and tray bakes.
“Desmond and Jacqui have been completely supportive in my bid to be a lecturer and I’ve been able to hire another chef in on the days I am teaching at NWRC.
“I just feel that everything has happened the way it was supposed to happen.
“That first day I walked into the Foundation Degree course I knew I was going to be interlinked with it years later.
“Every time I drive to college to teach I say to myself – I can’t believe I am doing this.
“But without the support of my wife Sarah I couldn’t have done any of this.
“You’re never too old to return to education – and I can say that because I was by far not the oldest person in my class. You are never finished learning. I always knew that I wanted more and that’s what I got.”
Luane Quigley Curriculum Manager for Travel and Tourism at NWRC said that Aaron’s experience is just one of the many success stories of former students on the Foundation degree at the College.
“We are delighted with Aaron’s success and the fact that not only has he gone on to find a job he loves, but that he has returned to NWRC as a part time lecturer.
“Validated by Ulster University many of our graduates in the Foundation Degree go on to achieve Full Honours Degrees and the quality of success has been measured with the many who have successfully gone on to secure full time employment,” she said.
For more information on courses at NWRC please log on to www.nwrc.ac.uk