Zak Dearden’s interest in cooking developed at school.

“None of my family are into cooking, so I didn’t do much at home, but I had a go in food technology lessons and really liked it,” he says. “I liked getting the different ingredients together and coming out at the end with a proper meal.”

Zak, who lives in Bailiff Bridge, turned that interest into a career, and for the past two years has been working as commis chef at the Old White Beare in Norwood Green.

The 17-year-old is one of a four-strong team in the kitchen at the historic inn at the centre of the village. “I love it – we are really busy and every day is different. The people I work with are great; we have a laugh, and head chef Andrew Thompson has taught me such a lot.”

The team create an imaginatively, traditionally-based menu including pan-fried monkfish, classic fillet of beef Wellington, pot-roasted chicken breast and baked Polenta cake. Spiced poached pear, jam roly poly and creme brulee feature among the desserts.

Zak works mainly on puddings but, as his experience grows, he’ll move on to mains. He is studying on the job for an NVQ, with visits from an assessor to check his progress.

“It can be hard because the standard is so high, but once you get into the routine it becomes easier. I like the challenge,” he says.

As well as lunches and evening meals, Zak helps prepare food for special events at the Old white Beare – weddings, christenings, birthday parties and themed balls. “We cater for up to 300 people in a big marquee alongside the pub.”

Great emphasis is placed on sourcing produce and as much as possible comes from local and regional suppliers.

Many regulars frequent the inn. “Some eat here at least once a week, which is nice because you get to know them,” says Zak. “We get a lot of really positive comments, it is very satisfying.”

On days off, the young chef catches up on sleep and relaxes in front of the TV, often tuning in to cookery programmes. “I’m always on the go, so I like to watch other chefs cooking,” he says. “I like Hell’s Kitchen – I can see why people get so stressed. It is very hard cooking in a set time when you are competing against other people.”

He is also a fan of Marco Pierre White. “He’s interesting. I like his style, and his books.”

Zak admits the long hours that are typical of the industry would not suit everyone. “It would be very difficult if you left a nine-to-five office job to become a chef, but if you go straight into a kitchen from school, like I did, you get used to it very quickly. It becomes a way of life.”