“I ALWAYS wanted to be a chef,” said Ian Bevan.
“At school when you had to do options I wanted to do home economics. It was fourth and fifth year and there were only two lads doing it – all the rest were girls.
“I used to do a lot of cooking with my mum, my granddad was always a keen cook and my auntie was a chef as well, so obviously it’s in the family.
“Then, every meal you had was home cooked – cottage pie, shepherd’s pie, stuffed pig’s heart, all the offal. It was harder times then, so everything was home cooked.”
Cake making was always a favourite, but all cooking fascinated him.
Ian was born in Marlborough, where he still lives, the son of a landscape gardener dad and a hairdresser mum. He is the middle of three brothers. The elder is a head teacher and the younger a plasterer.
The GCSE in home economics was taken at St John’s School in Marlborough, and while still at school the young Ian did work experience with another of his home town’s institutions, the Polly Tea Rooms.
Then came two years of college at North Star, which he left with a clutch of qualifications and some further work experience under his belt, this time in catering for functions at venues such as Silverstone and Henley, plus a stint at the old Ivy House back in Marlborough.
There then began a catering career that has seen the chef feed tens of thousands of people in Swindon and beyond.
First came National Power and St Ivel, then Plessey, where he worked at plants in Cheney Manor and Kembrey Park, rising to be head chef at Cheney Manor by the age of 23.
Next came a move to Nationwide, where he rose from sous chef to executive chef, catering for everything from summer balls to a 2003 Rugby World Cup themed menu which included kangaroo.
“You were doing 1,000 meals a day so I had 10 chefs under me then.”
A move to Arval in Windmill Hill followed. Nationwide had been an excellent employer but Ian yearned to cook.
“The last two or three years, when I worked myself up to executive chef, there was a lot of menu planning, organising and stuff, and I just wanted to get back into the kitchen again.
“I’ve always been a hands-on chef. I missed working in the kitchen.”
Before coming to Churchfields, Ian, who is married to Emma, a mental health support worker, cooked at the National Trust Building, the race track at Castle Combe, for various clients of Swindon’s CPW Hot Cats recruitment agency, at Bayer Pharma-ceuticals in Newbury and at Oxford Brookes University. He jokes that the Oxford post began a move down the clientele age scale.
Not relishing the near 100-mile daily commute to Oxford from Marlborough, he applied for the Pabulum job at Churchfields, joined in October of 2012 and has never looked back.
Tomorrow’s competition is not his first since coming to Churchfields: last year he was shortlisted for Pabulum’s chef of the year award and there have been several other accolades over the years.
He has plenty of good things to say about the firm.
“They’re employing chefs instead of school cooks.
“When schools have open days now they sell themselves on the food, saying how good the food is. Since Pabulum have been here, since September, we’ve increased the sales by about £250 a day.
“The students like the fact that they’ve got a chef in, and sometimes if I’ve covered at another school they say, ‘Where were you?’.
“They get used to you. They love the food here. I think they look foward to their dinners. Sometimes the bell hasn’t gone and they’re waiting here for their food.”
Dishes, he’s proud to say, are nutritionally balanced and reflect the many cultures of the diners, but pasta is a favourite at the school.
“We do a pasta bar and we make homemade sauces. They could eat pasta every day and a lot of them do, so each day I make three home-made sauces, one vegetarian and two meat options and all the ingredients are locally sourced.”
In the kitchen, Ian isn’t the loud, tantrum-throwing variety of chef – he considers such antics counterproductive and undignified.
“I’m very chilled. I think that’s how you command respect.
“If you rant and rave because the soup’s burned it’s not going to change anything. You have to think on your feet, and if somebody’s off you help with the washing up, you serve.
“It’s not just cooking.”
He enjoys his profession as much as he ever did: “It’s when your customers come back and ask for a recipe or just say, ‘Lunch was really nice.’ You’re there to provide a service and it’s nice to provide one that people recognise.
“If you’re a builder you can create all day and say, ‘This is what I’ve done,’ but as a chef you can create all day and it’s gone, vanished in minutes sometimes, but the customer feedback and the smiling faces – I really enjoy that.
“It’s what you’re here for, really.”
His own favourite dish?
“I’m very English and you can’t beat a good roast dinner. Proper gravy, Yorkshires, nice rare beef, home cooked veg.”