As those of you who know me will be sick of hearing, since embarking on the rocky road that is University, the idea of working in the food industry came from the realisation of a love of cooking, and has stuck with me for a fair few years. Despite how ruddy exciting Natural Sciences can be (and was by all means a good idea at the time) this deferred year of my degree has been a wonderful chance to pursue my creative, sparkly dreams. The Thailand PADI divemaster experience came first, and is now being followed by an intensive six week Professional Culinary Course at Ashburton Chefs Academy, in Devon.
The day of my 22nd birthday rolled around, and with it came an all-hands-on-deck ferry journey to Poole and beyond in order to get my car on the mainland. My lovely brother, Charlie, gallantly accompanied me on this lengthy journey, while my Mum took the more luxurious option of flying over to meet us in Exeter. We had a glorious time, sampling the very best of England’s chain restaurants, Bill’s and Boston Tea Party. Don’t fret, we did manage to celebrate my birthday properly during the week before, with a marvellous family dinner with my Dad at Bohemia, in Jersey. Everything about the meal blew me away, but sadly the lighting was so dim that the photos came out disastrously dark. But here is a snap of the cheery birthday treat that came at the end.
Accommodation-wise, the school offers the use of a shared lodge with other students at Finlake Holiday Park, with a free shuttle bus every morning and evening to drive you the fifteen minute journey to Ashburton. This seemed like the best option for me, considering it included use of the fitness centre, indoor and outdoor pools, tennis courts and woodland trails. On arrival, it did not disappoint!
The lodge is so adorable, with a perfect little table and chairs on a sunny decking area for barbecues and drinks in the Summer. My roomies could not have been more gentlemanly if they tried, giving me the one double room for the whole of our stay. Tom used to work in the luxury perfume industry, but since the sale of that business has decided to try a new venture. He is particularly interested in the idea of street food, setting up his own business, cooking great food from a van. Paul is an ex-marine from Manchester with a life-long passion for cooking, who is hoping to use this certificate as a way of getting his foot in the door of a decent kitchen, to gain experience as a chef. Much like myself, really!
After settling into our new abode, Tom cracked open the beers (with a tasty sparkling wine for me) and we chilled in the sun on our patio, swapping stories and talking excitedly about what tomorrow would bring, with the first day of our course.
Ian, the minibus driver, picked us up at nine o’clock the following day to make our way to Ashburton for tea, coffee and introductions. We are a group of nine (with the upper limit being sixteen), made up of four girls and five boys. Dave, the Academy Manager, and Rob, the Chef Operations Manager, welcomed us to the school and led us through those typically awkward ice breakers, to all get to know each other. We couldn’t have a more diverse group of nine if we tried, which made the morning so interesting. Despite this, there was still a definite common theme that ran through everyone’s stories, being that we all want a change of pace from our usual jobs or degrees, with this being an opportunity to gain skills and experience to eventually pursue our passions. Lunch was a delicious plate of sausages, mashed potatoes, cabbage and onion gravy. (Sloppily presented by me – but these things will come with time).
The sausages were made by previous students who had just graduated, and were bursting with flavour from the mixture of herbs and seasoning. We all remarked about how incredibly tasty even this simple grub was, to which Rob and Dave responded ‘You will be cooking far better food than this!’ It just shows what great things they have in store for us. The afternoon was filled with an in-depth overview regarding our course schedule. The sheer number of dishes that we will be cooking each day is simply astounding. We sample a few of them for lunch every day (with a dessert, naturally) and are lucky enough to take other dishes home each day. Over the course of a few days, we take home ‘Seabass carpaccio’, ‘Tart tatin with vanilla mascarpone cream’, ‘Spinach and ricotta tortellini with gorgonzola cream sauce’, ‘Foccacia bread’ and ‘Tiramisu’. I CANNOT WAIT.
Then came the moment we had all been waiting for…time to try on our chef’s whites!
What a dashing uniform, hey?! Obviously the shoes are totally unsuitable, my hair isn’t tied back and the cap is nowhere to be seen, but you get the idea. The following three days are going to be filled with a compulsory Health & Safety course, which is going to be thrrrrr-illing! On Friday we are baptised with our first day in the kitchen, where we learn knife skills, and cook the following:
- Chicken stock
- Vegetable stock
- White bread rolls
- Chocolate pots
- Chocolate run outs (what these are, I have no clue)
- Vichysoisse (ditto)
- Vegetable broth
For lunch we will enjoy the vichysoisse, bread rolls and a chocolate pot. We take home extra bread rolls and scones. My family, reading this, are going to be gutted to the very core to miss out on trying these fantastical goodies. Thankfully, my beautiful friend Robyn lives a mere stone’s throw away in Exeter, so will be receiving a plethora of goodies every weekend, at this rate! Happy happy days.