My love of food and cooking, made me take the plunge and walk away from academia and into the heat of the kitchen and my word it was hot!
I attended Westminster Catering College, supposedly one of the best of its kind in the world.
On my very first day, I was late – the train was packed and I thought I would wait for the next one, so I could get a seat. I knocked at the door of the classroom (we started of doing theory) as timidly as it is possible to knock a door. I received, how should I put it, a rather stern telling off (I’m keeping this post family friendly!) The chef was an intimidating Scottish man (not Ramsey!), he told me ‘I would never be late again’ – he was right!
After a week of mainly boring work on food theory; if you touch raw meat, you will die, that sort of thing, we were finally in the kitchen.
Roast chicken, fish and chips, soup, among other things were practiced in this first rotation. This was the most enjoyable experience I had at college and even here I was not happy. I know it was very early days, but I wanted to jazz it up a bit with my own personal flair and not stick so rigidly to the cookbook.
I learnt certain tips; don’t use a high edged baking tray and lay it on a bed of vegetables – carrots, celery, onions when roasting chicken and also the joys of triple cooked chips! Overall however there wasn’t much that was that insightful to me.
Remember the big, scary Scottish man I was telling you about, well it was time to enter his kitchen. Endless intimidation tactics and tellings off were his main teaching methods. This rotation seemed to last for an absolute age, with I dreading each and every day. I remember once, where I had been sent out. The corridor was a scary place, with other chefs eyeing you up and feeling like you’re under constant surveillance, in case you drop you’re military like stance, or your hands resort to the safety of your pockets. I was called back in, where too scared to ask of what I have missed, set about cutting the tortillas we were making. But, oh know, Lord above, they were meant to go in the fridge before being cut. Chef then asked if I had mental problems (on more than one occasion) and sent me out again. Bearing in my mind, that my crime was cutting a tortilla before refrigeration, I felt this was a little harsh.
Now, I wouldn’t have minded (as much) if we were making something the least bit exciting or challenging, but the whole of this rotation centered around making sandwiches and salads!
For weeks on end we chopped onions and cut open baguettes.
I started to think that I could not go on much longer (that sounds quite dramatic on paper).
We were finally finished the sandwich making rotation and we entered a real kitchen, one where we would be making and serving food for the college’s cafe. I decided to stay a while longer, as I thought, away from a certain someone and with a more creative, exciting and challenging experience things would improve.
While I was happier here, the pressure that you feel in the kitchen is something that I really didn’t enjoy. You (I) always feel only 10 seconds away from a stern telling off if you’re working to slowly and you (I) dread having to ask for any sort of help. It wasn’t for me.
I was taking more and more sick days and at times claimed I was feeling rather unwell when I did go in (as we had been taught, I can’t cook other people’s food when I’m unwell – so I must go home – at least I listened to the theory!). After a (lets be honest here) pathetic 2 months at catering college, I decided enough was enough.
I am now nearly finished my A -levels and I can report that those 2 months at catering college were by far more stressful, intense and difficult than a year and a half doing academic work.
I understand the need to start with the basics, but to be so strict and intimidating to first year students, I feel is unnecessary. There are different ways to gain respect. All that a certain someone gained from me with his manner was a less productive chef, to scared to try anything on his own back or ask questions.
I don’t want to be dramatic, but my experience at college has left certain mental scars. For one, every time I hear a Scottish accent, I honestly get a bit scared. Also, I have had to change my alarm from the one I used to use to wake me up at 5:30 for college every morning, as when I hear it, I start to feel all anxious – I definitely wasn’t cut out to be a chef!
I wouldn’t advise against catering college, but expect extremely early mornings, the scariest of people and it must be something that you know will be an all consuming experience.
Most of all, if you love cooking and you are prepared for a long slog to pass as a qualified chef then go for it. I clearly wasn’t but love cooking at home now, where I can be more creative and stress free – how it should be in my opinion.
Thank you for reading.