THE Duke of Westminster came to Halton to open a new centre of excellence for hospitality and catering at Riverside College.

He chatted to students and staff in their newly-refurbished scholar’s restaurant and training kitchen at the Kingsway campus in Widnes.

Afterwards, he told guests: “I was gobsmacked. I was really impressed. The facilities are fantastic.

“I own a hotel in Chester and four restaurants in Cheshire. I know how important it is to maintain standards. People come and go, it’s a constant challenge.

“There is a real determination here. You’ve got highly dedicated, highly motivated students.

“They can travel the world and use the skills they have learnt in Widnes.”

Principal Mary Murphy said: “We are very proud of the achievements of our students.They have been supported by highly qualified chefs and committed teachers.”

She thanked the Savoy Educational Trust for awarding students grants to buy uniforms and equipment.

Jason Wright, aged 43, from Palacefields, Runcorn, started college two years ago after working as a tatoo artist for 17 years.

He said: “I left school at 15 and joined the merchant navy. We all had turns in the galley kitchen and I discovered a passion for cooking.

“I love the butchery and pastry. The tutors are really supportive and push you to study hard.

“I hope to get a job in a good restaurant or hotel.”

John Ellis, aged 17, from Higher Runcorn, said: “I am really passionate about cooking. I hope to work around Europe.”

Neil Corfield, aged 25, from Windmill Hill, said: “I really enjoy being creative. The first time I was taught how to make risotto, I loved it.”

Masterchef Brian Mellor, from Widnes, who trained at a the college 30 years ago, said:”I have been blown away by what I have seen today. The facilities are absolutely fantastic and the standard of teaching is as high as ever.

“Mastering the basic skills is so important. Once you’ve got the tools of the trade, it is a passport to go anywhere.”