By Paul Brown
Ashley Young always serves up a treat when he thrills the crowd at Villa Park - but it was the winger's turn to be wowed as he checked out the new VMF restaurant project.
Young was on hand to watch Villa's new recruits dish up the magnificent meals which are fast becoming the hallmark of the club's distinguished new eaterie, located in the Directors area of Trinity Road.
Opened for two weeks now, VMF [Villa Midlands Food] is really delighting diners, with exquisite food and brilliant service.
And Young was thoroughly impressed with what he saw as well as the groundbreaking training project which goes hand in hand with the glorious grub.
VMF is more than just a restaurant and the story behind the project really amazed the England international midfielder.
The club is proud of its close association with people from the region which is why it's giving something back to the young people in the form of a hospitality training programme, with the 12 students selected both cooking and serving food in the unique new project.
The club have partnered with the city council's Birmingham Apprenticeship Scheme and taken on the trainee hospitality students, all living within a 10 mile radius of Villa Park.
The apprentices will spend two years with Aston Villa Hospitality and Events. During this time, they will be taking a Level 2 NVQ Diploma in Hospitality Services qualification, with the club working with Walsall College as its training provider.
The aim of the project is to give experience and a quality work environment to young adults who haven't been given this opportunity before.
"I think this project is massive for the club, I really do," said Young.
"To give opportunities to kids who normally wouldn't get this kind of chance is incredible.
"They are using their new skills to both serve the food and cook the food and that's terrific.
"I've chatted to a few of them and the feedback they are giving is that they are thoroughly enjoying the whole project. And the feedback from people in the restaurant is that it's spot on, which is really great to hear.
"I love the fact the club are giving these kids, who wouldn't maybe know what they wanted out of life, the chance to develop their skills and showcase their skills too. It's great that the club are doing it but it's massive for these kids, really massive.
"I chatted to Abdul about what he's been cooking and how he's been enjoying it and he's loving it.
"To listen to him say that and see the smile on his face is really heart-warming.
"My cooking isn't bad but it's not my forte. I will stick to football! My partner does the cooking and it can't be that bad - I'm still alive!"
Alison Plant, Villa's Head of Hospitality and Events, was thrilled to see Young mingle with the students and believes his presence provided them with a boost as they continue working hard.
She added: "It was great to have a senior Villa player recognise the good work of this project.
"It has given the apprentices a real boost and made them feel part of Villa and realise that we are all in it together".
The restaurant serves quality food, breaking the rules of tradition and formality with a wide range of influences, tapping into the varied cultures and cuisines within the area. The cost of three courses is only £25.
Why not start with roast organic tomato soup, followed by masala spiced line caught sea bass and topped off with a delicious bitter chocolate tart. Delicious!
The long-term aim is to achieve rosette level - a standard which recognises cooking at different levels across the UK.
Don't miss out on dining in the new restaurant on Thursday, Friday and Saturday each week.
Click here to check out a sample menu.