Former insurance advisor found college life to be a premium after switching career to follow her dreams of becoming a chef

DARLINGTON College student Katrina Billingsley returned to her native North to study a foundation degree in hospitality and tourism after 14 years in the insurance business.

“When I was 15 I worked in Frenchgate Hotel in Richmond,” the 47-year-old single mum said. “At 18 I worked as a restaurant manager in Cyprus and in silver service in the officers’ mess but then moved to Southport and into insurance.

“Now I’m divorced and back in Richmond I’m determined to pursue my passion for hospitality which has given me a new lease of life and I plan to open a business as a private chef.”

Returning to college as a mature student, she found herself securing a work placement with former BBC MasterChef contestant Mike Bartley, who specialises in foraging for ingredients.

“We went foraging in Hamsterley Forest, which really opened my eyes,” she said. “Working with Mike was inspirational and I thrived on it. Foraging was such good fun. There is so much around us that we are unaware of and it is such a sustainable way to find ingredients. Being self-sufficient, by having your own land or gardens, is a big thing at the moment for restaurants.”

Darlington College lecturer Dawn Cobb-Neate said: “Chefs like Mike inspire our students and we strive to open up opportunities that will expose them to the very latest trends in UK and international cuisine.

“Katrina jumped at the chance to work with Mike and learned a huge amount that will stand her in good stead for the future.”

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