Professional rugby player and self-confessed foodie Ollie Smith visited Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen London restaurant this week as part of his research into a future career in the restaurant business.

Ollie’s visit was organised by the Rugby Players’ Association (RPA) as part of their Player Development Programme, which helps professional rugby players with their personal and professional development and career planning for when they retire from rugby.

Ollie, whose rugby honours include caps for England and the British Lions and Heineken Cup and Premiership winner medals, was hugely impressed by the set up at Fifteen, and the information he picked up on his visit has made a big impact on his plans for the future.

Smith said: “I’ve always had a passion for food, which probably goes hand in hand being a rugby player and ideally, one day I’d like to own a restaurant. The visit to Fifteen was a chance to see how a restaurant works and what goes on behind the scenes – how they come up with ideas for food, how they run things, and it was a real eye opener for me.

“I was surprisingly nervous going in to the day, but excited as well. Running out onto a rugby pitch in front of 78,000 people was nothing compared to this! Getting up at ten to six was also a shock to the system as apart from playing rugby the only other proper job I’ve had was probably a paper round.

“I spent the day shadowing the head chef and speaking with the apprentices. I also helped out making a bit of gnocchi, serving some ravioli and doing jobs around the kitchen. It’s been a very enjoyable experience.

“Speaking with the apprentices was probably one of the more rewarding parts of the day. We talked about their roles and how they were enjoying what they were doing – bearing in mind that 8-10 months ago many of them couldn’t make beans on toast, now they’re almost fully fledged chefs that have developed a passion for food. That’s probably the most interesting thing, seeing how they’ve gone from having very little knowledge to feeling they can really be part of it and have a real connection with cooking. It’s not just a job they are doing, it’s a lifestyle they can pursue for years to come, and the skills they’re learning are setting them up for life.

“It’s a fantastic program they are running. You can tell from speaking to the apprentices that they are so grateful for the opportunity they have been given. Pretty much all the apprentices here started with nothing, and now they’ve almost got the world at their feet, which before starting the program they couldn’t have dreamed of.

“The day has been really valuable and a big learning curve for me, with plenty to think about. I’m really grateful to Ben, my Player Development Manager at the RPA, who set this all up for me, and to Tromie Dodd, Andrew Parkinson, Nikki Giles and everyone at Fifteen for giving me the opportunity to come in and have a look round.

“I’m lucky that I fell into rugby and hopefully, when the time comes to move on, I’ll go into the food industry as it’s a passion of mine. I want to get more hands on work experience, and if I did get the opportunity to do that at fifteen it would be brilliant. Just doing 7 to 8 hours at fifteen has made me realise how very, very tiring it is – I’m not going to deny that! – but it has also confirmed that I do enjoy food and find it very interesting. Before today I thought I’d want to take a more hands off role, but watching the chefs, and seeing them cook something that someone else gets so much pleasure from was so rewarding it’s prompted me to review my plans. Maybe I’ll look to go down the cookery course route instead, and work my way up to owning a restaurant.

Find out more about Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen London at www.jamieoliver.com/fifteen