Shane Farrell is a 1st-year Culinary ARTS Student in TU Dublin - Tallaght
Deciding to Become a Chef
Growing up, becoming a chef was never something that occurred to me. It was never what I saw myself working as full-time. I’ve always cooked, and I enjoyed baking with my Granny when I was young. Food was always important in our house, but it never felt like a career path for me. I actually started off studying Marine engineering in CIT after my leaving certificate. I wanted to work on boats and ships, not in kitchens. Then, in a twist of fate, I crashed my motorcycle and ended up breaking multiple bones. As a result, I deferred a year of college. After recovery I still had time off from school, I needed something to do for the rest of the year and so a friend recommended that I take a job with BaxterStorey.
So, my journey began. I worked from the ground up. I covered every station, twice over. I was a kitchen porter, on food prep, I tried my hand at everything I could get away with. While I was working in the kitchen I fell in love with the buzz, the hustle & bustle of the kitchen. I began to realise the career opportunities that were available for chefs. When I returned to college, I kept working in BaxterStorey for about 3 years. I quickly realized that being in the kitchen was more fulfilling than my degree. So, I withdrew from my marine engineering course and decided to study Culinary Arts. I was inspired by the chefs that were working around me, the ones who would face every challenge with a creative solution. I loved the idea of being adaptable and creative with the dishes.
My next step was to apply for a new course. I applied to join Culinary Arts in TU Dublin, Tallaght and subsequently got in as a mature student. It was overwhelming and unnerving, the idea of starting afresh in a new course. At least when I had previously been in CIT, I was the same age as everyone else and we were all on level footing. Now I was older and different. My fears dissipated rapidly once we got stuck in. The lecturers and other students were so welcoming, and I knew this was the right place for me.
I came prepared to study all the theory and do a lot of reading. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the all the practical elements of the course. I hadn’t been expecting so much time in practical hands-on classes. Of course, we still must spend time studying theory. The theory parts of the course aren’t as dense as I once feared. The lecturer’s breakdown all of the complex subjects into manageable topics. It makes even the most intimidating subjects accessible. As you go through college, you begin to realise how vital those theoretical elements are. The theory provides the basis for everything you do in the kitchen. When you begin to understand the why the how becomes easier. Then the techniques become easier to remember as well. My favourite module at the minute is Kitchen Production, in that class we get to cook for the college staff and every week it’s rotated from fish to meat and so on.
I’m working in Richmond at the minute, a Michelin Bib Gourmand Restaurant here in Dublin. For me, cooking is all about the art and creativity behind the dishes. In the Richmond, we get to experience that type of cooking day in and day out. I’m over the moon for the opportunity to work with all the crew here and I want to give a massive thank you to my lecturer Annette Sweeney for helping me get my placement here.
I’m really enjoying placement; it’s been a really positive experience for me. I don’t feel ‘thrown into the deep end’ but I am learning a lot, it’s an encouraging environment to learn in. I’ve been fortunate enough to get experience on soups, starters and more. The more I work here, the more I realise how important all that theory that we’re doing in class is. I’ve even been given the opportunity to cook steaks for the staff meal. They’ve definitely challenged me as a chef in Richmond, but they’re also aware that I’m still learning, and they allow me that extra patience because of that.
Expectation VS Reality
In my opinion, being in a kitchen and experiencing service and that entire environment is vital for a student chef. You don’t understand the nature of being a chef until you’re in the heat of the kitchen. Already in my course, we’ve had people who really enjoy the theory and do well on the practical side of things, but when it came to getting into the industry and actually being a chef, they didn’t like it. There’s a stark contrast between the college kitchen and that of a restaurant, you’re not protected or afforded the same security in an industry kitchen the way you are in college. Placement is a great way of ensuring you really want to be in this profession.
I think there are some challenges facing chefs, and young chefs especially. For example, the chef shortage in Ireland. I think a leading factor in this is the parents of students. Parents and teachers are given a negative perception of cheffing as a career, with television and media portraying the kitchen as a hostile environment, similar to a warzone. People are only exposed to the negative elements of the industry. In reality, every chef knows for a kitchen to function it has to be calm and collected. Happy chefs cook better dishes and it results in a better restaurant. It’s for reasons like this that Chef Network’s Student Industry Forum is so important. It breaks down barriers and let’s student chefs like me network with the likes of JP McMahon or Wade Murphy. It shows how positive this industry can be and the support that is there for young chefs. It’s experiences like these that are the reason I am excited to continue my journey as a chef and start my journey.
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