Studying to be a Chef
I’ve just started my first year at TUD, studying Culinary Arts in the City Centre Campus.
I’m 17 years old, and I’ve just finished secondary school. I want to become a pastry chef.
I have always been interested in food, so deciding to study culinary arts was a straight-forward decision for me. I’ve grown up surrounded by food, my father is a butcher so good food has always played a central role in home life for me. My mother and granny were always baking, it wasn’t unusual to spend our Saturdays in the kitchen gazing into the oven, eagerly awaiting whatever treat was inside. Eventually, I became the baker in the family. I have a fascination with pastry and have spent many hours in the kitchen covered in flour. Baking, working with pastries and creating desserts for people to enjoy is something I am so passionate about.
Why Culinary Arts?
I debated for a short time whether I should simply pursue pastry by doing the Level 7 Pastry & Bread-making course in TUD Cathal Brugha St. However, after many discussions with guidance counsellors and my parents, I decided that for a more well-rounded education, I should do Culinary Arts, it covers so much and I knew I wanted to be the best chef I could possibly be, without placing limitations on myself. When I was considering going to college, I was also given the option of working my way up through a kitchen as opposed to studying. I met a chef who had done this, and it worked out rather well for him, however, I felt learning in a more structured environment might be best, especially considering I’m kind of young.
I hope to be a pastry chef when I leave Cathal Brugha St., though I haven’t completely ruled out becoming a hot kitchen chef but for now I don’t think it’s for me. My true passion is in baking and desserts.
As with anyone just starting out in college, I was a little bit nervous and fearful of the unknown. Everything was new and so different from school; it was very easy to feel a bit lost. However, I was so hopeful about everything I could potentially learn and experience, I quickly got over my fear. I was most looking forward to learning new techniques and seeing how a kitchen is run.
My first day in college was also my very first time in Cathal Brugha Street. Surprisingly, it wasn’t as overwhelming as I thought it might be. Our course coordinator explained the basics of the course and gave us important information on our knives and uniform. We were put right at ease when we met our lecturers. It didn’t take long to settle in.
What I’m learning
After orientation and once classes started, things began to change. I slowly learned the importance of clean whites, sharp knives and the etiquette of a kitchen. I gradually began to realise the intricacies of cheffing. Cheffing requires more than just simply cooking. There’s paperwork, costings and regulatory things like HAACP to learn about.
Another realisation that I had was that cheffing is not a solitary job. There is such a wide range of people that chefs must engage and interact with daily. To execute a dish well, you need a team that can work efficiently together. These are aspects of the job that I hadn’t considered until I came face-to-face with them in the college kitchen. I had never given any thought to the importance of mise en place until now. There are so many jobs in a kitchen between helping others out and making sure you’re prepared to avoid stress.
Evidently having to study theory is a part of this type of culinary education. I’m finding this part of the course to be the most challenging. However, it is so important that we understand the ‘why’ behind a recipe. It makes a real difference when you can identify the reason behind the method of cooking, it helps you to make better decisions about the dishes that you’re cooking in class. It also makes it a lot easier too that this is a subject I enjoy. Everything we discuss revolves around food and cooking, I’m very fortunate, in that respect that I’m studying subjects which I have a genuine interest in.
The academic demands of the course overall haven’t been too strenuous. I’d imagine that this in large part due to only being in first year. Our very first assignment was a gentle introduction to college essay writing. It’s a change, writing essays on gastronomy instead of Macbeth, however, when it came time to write the essay, I was pleasantly surprised by how prepared I was. We had a few Multiple-Choice Quizzes that were nerve-wracking, however, I found if you put a bit of work into them, they weren’t as bad as I thought. I’m currently studying for my Semester 1 exams and while I’m nervous, having not sat a college exam before, it’s not as intimidating as the Leaving Cert. I only have 3 exams and I already have 30% of these modules completed. This really helps relieve the pressure.
My opinion on going to college to become a chef.
If there was anything I could change about the course, it would be increasing the time we spend in the kitchen. At the minute we only spend two days a week in there. I think this is far too little considering we’re all going to spend the greater part of our life on our feet, in the kitchen. We do an awful lot of theory, and while I understand that we need to gain a comprehension for why we cook the way we do, is it all really relevant? I’d just like to spend more time cooking, as opposed to studying. I think there is a whole variety of things we could learn in the kitchen that would be relevant to our future careers. For example; ordering stock. In college right now all we do is receive products, we don’t examine quality, question where it comes from or think about the cost. Personally, I think it’s so important that we as chefs know where our ingredients are coming from. It’s our responsibility as chefs to ensure that we source the best, local, sustainable and freshest food to cook with.
After these four years?
I hope to be a great chef. I want to have gained valuable experience in kitchens. I want to be a competent hot kitchen chef, but my heart is in pastry, so I hope to leave Cathal Brugha St specialising in pastry and confectionery. I’m not quite sure where I’ll work, whether it will be a restaurant, a hotel or a patisserie. I know that when I become a professional chef, I want to maintain the philosophy I’ve always grown up within my family, that local, fresh and whole foods are best to work with. I want food provenance to be central to everything I cook.
One of the brilliant things about being a chef is that you can work anywhere, all over the world. I’d love to travel and explore different cultures and cuisines. I’d love to spend time in France, the patisseries and passion for pastry in France is second to none and working there would be a fantastic experience. However, I’m also aware that there’s so much opportunity as a chef in Ireland. I’ve spent the last few months working on the floor of the afternoon tea lounge in The Shelbourne. It has opened my eyes and piqued my interest in afternoon tea and the desserts they serve there. Working there has helped me realise the many different avenues you can go down as a pastry chef. I really feel like my opportunities are endless.
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