A Student's View from the Kitchen - Part 3

Sally Gardner graduated from Edinburgh New Town Cookery School last March having completed and passed the Three Month Intermediate/Advanced Certificate with distinction. When she was a student here she wrote some blogs for us about life as a student at ENTCS. We have asked her to write another one 8 months later to hear what she has been up to since leaving. This is Sally’s blog for us:

"After spending a decade as an English teacher I made the decision to leave my teaching career and pursue other interests. One of those interests was cooking. I knew I didn’t want to become a chef, so I set about researching jobs that involved cooking without the pressures of working in a service kitchen. As someone who is artistic, having an element of creativity to the job was vital and I decided that food styling would suit me, following a suggestion by a mentor, and with my background in English, writing was another area I was keen to explore.

I spent a week in London on work experience at Olive magazine as well as working as an assistant food stylist on photo shoots for Delicious magazine and Thermomix UK. I quickly realised that you need to be more than a good cook to write about food and style it; you need to really understand food and cooking. How can you ensure that you will be able to style the most perfect picture of a cake without knowing the science behind the perfect rise? Or achieve the beautiful poached egg that oozes its glossy, golden yolk and doesn’t have a gelatinous white to ruin the image? In short, I lacked a serious amount of cooking experience and know-how, so I realised that if I was to make any progress in my new career, I really needed to do further training and immerse myself in it.

I chose ENTCS following a meeting with Fiona Burrell, the Principal, who I’d primarily contacted to ask her advice on a career in food styling. I had heard great things about the cookery school and, whilst researching food styling in Edinburgh, had also come across a Daily Record article online giving case studies of previous students, one of whom had done exactly what I was hoping to do. Having discussed what was involved in the Three Month Intermediate/Advanced Certificate and had a look around the school, I left feeling certain that I’d benefit from the training I’d receive there. The school was impeccably clean with fantastic resources, both in the kitchen and the demonstration room on the ground floor, and the course structure was very thorough and extensive.

I found all of it inspiring because it was so different and I loved learning again and indulging my own passions on a daily basis. However, I probably most enjoyed the recipe development aspect of the course because it was something I’d never done before (the reulting picture is at the top of this blog). So to be given the task of developing a few recipes as a project for the course was a really creative element that I loved. I found it quite difficult when I first sat down to think about it because it felt as though I’d been asked to reinvent the wheel. But once I started to free myself of that fear, I found that the ideas started flowing and I’m really looking forward to doing more of this in my personal blog as it develops. I am now much more confident as a cook, trying new dishes whenever possible, and it doesn’t stress me out. The knowledge I learnt at ENTCS and in my subsequent cooking jobs means that I’m able to troubleshoot and solve problems, so that element of stress has gone.          

Since leaving teaching, I have been determined to keep an open mind where my next step is concerned. I have been fortunate enough to be able to follow my interests and have had a wonderful year full of rich experiences. It has helped me to narrow down my options. Food writing and styling was the initial plan and I’m still very keen to do that because I love the creative process. I’ve loved the experiences I’ve had assisting stylists and photographers on photo shoots and being given opportunities to get involved in the actual styling of shots, but they have been down in London.  So I have been consolidating all I learned at ENTCS by working as a freelance cook for catering companies, cafes and private clients.  At the same time, I’m also in the process of launching my blog "My Scots Kitchen" where I can write and develop my food styling and immerse myself in my love of food.

Who knows what the future holds, but for now I’m excited as I have started a new job as a PR Account Manager for a boutique agency dealing primarily with restaurants, inns and hotels, so there’ll be plenty of writing, food and creativity…all fantastic experience and all leading in the right direction.

Even if you don’t want to be a restaurant chef there are always exciting possibilities that can come from a knowledge of and enthusiasm for food. You need to find the right avenue for you, so look for the open doors and take every opportunity that comes your way. Starting out again on a different path forces you to look at your strengths so you can begin building a new career, but it’s all character-building stuff and I haven’t looked back once."

The next Three Month Intermediate Course starts in January 2016.