The School of Hospitality and Culinary Arts was formed one hundred years ago when a committee of concerned academics and hospitality representatives, which included Auguste Escoffier, Cesar Ritz, Isadore Salmon and Baroness Burdett-Coutts, came together to develop a school for professional cookery. Many of London’s finest hotels were being opened during this period in a new age of hospitality for the 20th century, including the Ritz Hotel London opened in 1906, the Waldorf Astoria in 1908 and the family-run Goring Hotel in 1910.
The ‘Westminster Technical Institute’ was established in 1894 in a two-storey building, provided by Baroness Burdett-Coutts, who had founded the nearby St. Stephen’s Church on Rochester Row and the Burdett-Coutts School.
Following the consultations with the hospitality industry in London, the Catering School first opened its doors in 1910 under the guidance of the first Principal, J. Stuart Ker. Records show that this was in fact the first Culinary Arts School to open in the UK. The initial prospectus illustrates the range of courses that were offered, including Civil Engineering, Gas Engineering, Architecture and Construction, Cabinet Making, School of Art and finally, the Cookery Technical Day School, which developed into the Professional Chef Diploma. By 1912, catering had four pages in the prospectus and a ‘School for Waiters’ was added. As their vision was to inspire both students and staff in culinary arts and science, it was decided that a training restaurant was vital to enable students to practice cooking and serving meals to the public. Today this is known as The Vincent Rooms, which continues to provide students with hands-on experience and diners with outstanding food.
At the time, the majority of head chefs employed in London were from France, led by the Chef de Cuisine Auguste Escoffier at the Savoy Hotel. Auguste Escoffier founded the Société Culinaire Française with Chef Emile Fetu in 1903, later to merge with the Club Culinaire to become the Association Culinaire Française. The interwar years saw the continuation of the evening classes in engineering and art and the day courses in catering. Mr Ker, Principal since 1907, was replaced in 1932 by Dr G. N. Long. Major extensions to the building in Vincent Square, particularly to incorporate the needs of the catering courses, followed. Large scale catering equipment, cold rooms, a larder and pastry areas were added in 1932. A two-year Hotel Managers’ course was established alongside the food service course.
In 1951 the Vincent Rooms restaurant was extended and in 1953, the Escoffier Room opened; a fine dining room named after Auguste Escoffier. During this period further kitchens were added as well as a wine cellar. The number of courses for both chefs and front of house students also continued to grow.
In 2010, the School of Hospitality and Culinary Arts celebrated its 100th anniversary. As part of the centenary celebrations, the college welcomed HRH The Prince of Wales on a visit to the Victoria Centre where he toured the teaching kitchens and met staff and students as well as a group from the Princes Trust that were being trained by the College.
In 2012, Westminster Kingsway College launched its new innovative teaching kitchens at the Victoria Centre with a launch event for stakeholders, sponsors, college governors, staff and students. The new facilities include the Baroness Burdett-Coutts Kitchen for International Culinary students, a culinary science and kitchen innovation laboratory, and a chocolate laboratory.
The Escoffier Restaurant was completely redesigned and refurbished in September 2019. It is now a modern contemporary restaurant with high ceilings and original windows, allowing natural light to flood in. Reidel kindly sponsors all of the glassware used in The Escoffier Room. Jeroboams Wine Merchants kindly donated our menus, wine list and digestive leather presenters. The cocktail menu holders were donated by Matthew Clark Drink Suppliers.
The Vincent Rooms has been refurbished over the past few years, culminating in a reception in February 2021, maintaining its art deco history but bringing it to modern standards.