Neel Radia FIH is Chairman of the National Association of Care Catering (NACC), works for Brakes Group and has won awards for his work in the sector, including a Catey in 2018. We caught up with Neel in advance of our Fellows’ Dinner which he will be attending, to find out about his career to date and his personal goals for the year ahead.
What attracted you to a career in hospitality?
I’ve always had a passion for good food as I was brought up in a family where food was an important part of life. Recognising my interest in food and people, my career advisor suggested I consider a career in hospitality.
I decided to study hospitality management at college and I also took a part-time job at a hospital, serving meals to patients. I would say I was very quickly hooked! I went on gain a GNVQ Advanced and a degree in Tourism Management.
I was very lucky that my first job on graduation was at Walt Disney World, Florida, where I worked at the EPCOT Centre as a cultural representative. This was an amazing opportunity. I learnt a lot and my love of hospitality was cemented.
Tell us more about your additional role as Chair of the National Association of Care Catering.
In 2006, a close family member faced challenges accessing food in care. I researched available support in this area and discovered the National Association of Care Catering (NACC). I was inspired by what the association was doing to improve standards and accessibility and I decided to become a member. Within two months, I joined the South East region committee as chairman and six years later I was elected National Chair of the NACC.
I’m now in my third term (6th year) as National Chair of the NACC. My role, as with all my colleagues at the NACC, is voluntary. Good food and hydration is fundamental to quality care and we’re dedicated to making a real difference to the lives of those in care settings today and also in the future.
We support our members and the care catering sector with information, guidance and training to help them develop their catering services and ensure excellence in their establishments – whether that be a care home (for the elderly, vulnerable or young) or a community service like Meals on Wheels or a Lunch Club. We also run successful initiatives to raise awareness of important issues surrounding care catering and the value the sector adds to the hospitality industry as well as society. Our key initiatives include the NACC Care Chef of the Year competition, Meals on Wheels Week, the NACC Training Academy, the NACC Training & Development Forum and the NACC Awards.
What makes the Care Catering industry so special to work in?
It’s absolutely the people. Everyone in the sector has real passion and drive to do the very best they can for those they are catering for. They understand that good nutrition and hydration is an essential part of quality care and they are dedicated to giving their service users access to the best. They also understand that mealtimes in a care setting are the highlight of the day for many and that the experience is as important as what’s on the plate. Every day care caterers go above and beyond to make mealtimes enjoyable and ensure that the emotional wellbeing of service users is looked after, as well as the physical.
In my role, I’ve met some remarkable people. Their dedication, enthusiasm, creativity and innovation have inspired me. Care caterers really do epitomise the word ‘caring’ and I’m privileged to call them my colleagues and friends.
As someone who has already achieved so much, what’s been your career highlight?
That’s a tough question as achievements and highlights in care catering can range from simply knowing that the work you do puts a smile on someone’s face or gives someone’s loved one peace of mind through to getting important topics on a political agenda.
My achievements as NACC National Chair are my top highlights. Our work to raise awareness of the importance of the Meals on Wheels service and getting the threat to the service on the public and political agenda is very important to me. We’ve had great success engaging MPs, the media and even the support of HRH the Duchess of Cornwall in this important campaign, and I’m delighted to say that we even won an award for our work. I was also very proud when our work to launch the first qualification for chefs working in health and social care catering came to fruition. This was a huge step forward for our sector.
A personal highlight was when my work as NACC National Chair was recognised with firstly a Foodservice Catey in 2015 and then a Catey Award in 2018. These are very prestigious awards and it’s an honour that the industry chose to recognise me in this way.
What’s been the biggest change to the industry you’ve seen during your career?
The obvious changes are in technology. The rapid technological advances and the growth of social media have changed the way everyone works. It’s created efficiencies and opened up the lines of communications so that we are all better connected.
From a care catering perspective, I would say one of the biggest changes has been in the wider industry’s opinion of the sector. Historically, it was seen to be inferior to the more glamorised sectors such as restaurants or hotels. I’m thrilled that this is no longer the case. Care catering is now held in high regard as a rewarding, specialised and highly-skilled sector and this is reflected in the incredible talent and knowledge care chefs demonstrate daily.
Who has inspired you the most during your career?
My parents have been a huge source of inspiration to me. They have a successful food company and a fantastic work ethic. They’ve shown me that going the extra mile in everything you do improves the lives of others and your own, and this is a very important message.
What drives you to succeed each working day?
I’m driven by the fact that what I do with the NACC makes a difference to people’s lives.
I also like to challenge myself and push myself out of my comfort zone – I follow the mantra ‘If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you’. My role as chair of the NACC has definitely done this, from public speaking through to jumping out of an aeroplane and now running the London Marathon in 2019 for the association’s chosen charity, St Luke’s Hospice, I’ve stepped up to many new challenges.
What are you hoping to achieve during 2019?
My big challenge for 2019 is running the London Marathon 2019 to raise money for St Luke’s Hospice, a charity close to my heart. I’m not a runner so I have my work cut out, but it’s important to me to give back to St Luke’s who give amazing care and support in their community, including to loved ones of mine. I’ve been supporting St Luke’s Hospice as a volunteer since my nan passed away there in 2011 and I’m determined to complete the marathon for them!
How has being part of the Institute of Hospitality helped your career?
The IOH is a wonderful institution that I’m honoured to be part of. It’s been an amazing source of support and inspiration for my career as I’ve learnt so much from the many talented and knowledgeable people it’s enabled me to meet.