Tuesday, 12 April 2016

SPEECH: Le Cordon Bleu ask me back to speak to and inspire students. Help.

Forgive me, for I have sinned. It's been SUCH a long time since my last post but with good reason. Work really does get in the way of blogging but I can't and won't complain. I love my job and I'm incredibly lucky. My post this evening is in honour of my time at Le Cordon Bleu. I left almost a year to the day and so much has happened in that time. Some good, some not so good. As ever, I've learnt a huge amount along the way, and this post is really all about that. 

Just before Christmas the team at the school got in touch with me. They'd read my blog and wanted me to speak at their next graduation ceremony. To the students. And be THE guest speaker. Not the warm up but THE guest speaker. ME! Not being one to turn down an opportunity, or a meal at a fancy hotel I said yes even though the inner me was saying no, on repeat and rather loudly. It was deafening but 'yes' won and it was agreed that I would speak at the March graduation ceremony to be held at The Intercontinental Park Lane to the graduating students, their friends and family and the entire teaching staff from Le Cordon Bleu. Approximately 300 people they said. Fuck. (Sorry, I know it's rude to swear but its allowed when public speaking is involved, don't you think?)

I spent weeks putting the thought to the back of my mind and such is life, the next thing I knew, the ceremony was happening the following week. I opened the lid of my Mac and like magic the pages began to fill and what looked like a reasonably well structured speech came out. I'd been tasked to inspire the graduates and to talk to them about careers in the food industry outside cheffing. As you know, I'm not a chef and so they felt it would be interesting for those also wishing to explore alternative avenues to know what might be possible. 

I thought it might be a nice idea to share my speech with you. Why not?! I got up there and said it out loud to frankly way too many people, my Mum included who I was actually quite glad to see in the front row, smiling back at me. Reminded me of dance recitals when I was little. I got up on stage, even though the last time I'd done anything like this must have been some 15 years ago when I was at school and after many hours spent practising with my drama teach, Miss Neave, and even after the headmistress, sat next to me had commented that one of the fathers was 'rather disappointed' that the school hadn't selected a celebrity alumni to speak....I die. 

So here it is, I hope you find it interesting! Do forgive me if there are any spelling or grammatical errors. I'm dyslexic and the English language is confusing. 

Thank you Miss Grey for the wonderful introduction! And thank you to Le Cordon Bleu for inviting me here to speak to you today. I feel very honoured to be sharing this special moment with you.

I was a little surprised however as I’m not a chef! But, as it turns out, that’s why I’m here – to tell you all about life after Le Cordon Bleu if you decide to take your career in a slightly different direction, but one which of course uses the skills that you’ve now gained.  

When I enrolled in 2014, unlike many others, I already knew that a chef’s life wasn’t for me. I’ll tell you all about that in a moment or two but first, having been in your shoes just less than a year ago, I appreciate how tired, happy and in need of a drink you are so let’s first raise our glasses and toast to your success!! Just think, unless you want to, you never have to make a Gateau Opera ever again!

You should all feel incredibly proud of yourselves.

So, as I mentioned, I never wanted to be a chef and therefore I’m not. Before enrolling, first I achieved a BA honors degree in Marketing from the University of Plymouth. Following this I moved to Bristol and went on to work in the design and advertising industry for 8 years. Whilst working in this field I had the opportunity to work very closely with my client, Unilever, assisting with the development of many of their large-scale advertising campaigns for brands such as Persil, Lynx, Dove, Carte D’Or, Flora and Knorr. It was whilst working with the food bands that my passion for all things food began to grow and blossom. I was becoming a “foodie”.

The more projects I was involved in, the closer I became to the chefs I was working with, chefs such as Jean Christophe Novelli and the great Marco Pierre White, and the more I learnt from them. I thrived on their passion and this drove me to want to learn more. But it wasn’t only them who I looked up to. I was also working very closely with food photographers, home economists, food writers and journalists, all whom shared my passion for food – for making it, for preparing it, for dressing it and for making it look as appealing to others as possible. I couldn’t get enough.

At the same time, like many others in the UK, I was caught up in the Great British Bake Off whirl wind and I was spending a large proportion of my spare time baking for fun, and testing out new recipes on rather willing friends and family. The more I baked the better I got and the more compliments I began to receive. When the show came to an end in 2013 many of my friends encouraged me to enter for the following year and so I did. I thought that by entering I might gain more exposure to the industry and for a moment thought I might even be able to change the course of my career to focus solely on food.  

After many phone interviews I was invited to the studio in Bristol and asked to bring my wares with me. Terrified I did so and although the show producers loved my wild rabbit pies and celebration cake, sadly I wasn’t selected. Making it down to the last 100 from 16,000 felt like an achievement in itself but of course, it wasn’t quite enough. I hadn’t even met Paul Hollywood!

Feeling a little disheartened that the chances of my becoming the next Mary Berry now seemed dashed, I returned to work and discussed my experience with my colleagues and the chefs I’d been working closely with. One of them looked me square in the eyes and said, “Is that it? Are you going to give up just because a TV show didn’t see the passion you have?” He was right. We spoke more about my career and what it was that I wanted to do and he pointed me in the direction of Le Cordon Bleu and encouraged me to fully immerse myself in the world of food. He told me that by training at culinary school, but not any old culinary school, this culinary school that the opportunities following my studies would be endless, and again, he wasn’t wrong.

The next thing I knew, the papers were signed and my Mum was measuring my head to make sure my chef’s hat would fit! Before joining I shadowed food stylist, spent time with food photographers and turned my hand to writing and blogging. Jumping in with both feet really helped me to gain confidence.

Before I go on to tell you a little more about what it is that I do now, I want to share a couple of success stories with you from those who graduated alongside me;

·      First - Charlotte. We were stood next to one another during our intermediate exam. We were assigned the dreaded gateau Opera and we had that moment of confusion as to whose ganache was whose. Luckily we managed to work it out before it melted in the heat of the patisserie kitchen! When I saw Charlotte’s masterpiece next to mine I knew she was going to go on to achieve great things. Charlotte now works at Sexy Fish. For those of you who know of the restaurant, you’ll know that she’s in a fantastic kitchen. For those of you who don’t, Sexy Fish is one of the most on trend restaurants of the moment. The work she posts on Facebook and Instagram is phenomenal.
  •      Ling works in the pastry kitchen at The Shangri’la Hotel in the Shard
  •      Graf is at The Langham
  •      Cat has gone on to work at London’s most delicious bakery, Gails
  •      Julia has set up her own business in San Paulo, Brazil  
  •      Omri has gone to Lyle’s of London
  •      And Malak and Sundus have joined forces and set up their own supper club, which they run alongside their day jobs! 

And this is just a very small snippet of success stories and all in under a year. But not everyone has gone on to become a chef, as you know, I haven’t, and neither have others, such as Ryane, nor Hollie who I also studied alongside. Rayne is now a full time recipe writer, photographer, stylist and chef at Andaz Hyatt, a boutique hotel and Hollie has worked alongside the great Mary Berry!

As for me, I continued to gain as much experience in the world of food as I possibly could. Whilst studying I worked at Crosstown Doughnuts so that I could continue to learn from baking experts and understand more about food presentation. Here I learnt the importance of social media in the modern food industry and how new food business start from their online appearance and work out, taking into consideration the lighting and surfaces they fit within their shop or restaurant and how this will translate in a photograph. I continued to shadow food stylists and even landed a three-day styling placement on the set of the Great British Bake Off, in the actual tent, which entirely made up for the previous years rejection.

Following my intermediate exams and intense celebration cake course, I very quickly landed a position at Sauce Communications, a PR agency dedicated to food. How? I emailed them explaining that due to my slightly random collection of skills…That I didn’t really fit anywhere else and that they needed to strongly consider hiring me. Without a live job role available, they heard my plea, asked me in for an interview and the next day offered me a job and I absolutely love it.

I’m surrounded by like-minded people every day and the knowledge of the culinary world gained here at Le Cordon Bleu really has put me in incredibly very good stead. Rather than working as chef, I work with chefs’ day in, day out. At Sauce Communications we work with chefs such as John Quilter, Michel Roux Jr., The Hairy Bikers, James Martin, John Torode, Paul Hollywood, Mary Berry, Tom Aikins, Tom Kitchen, Ben Tish, Tom Kerridge, Theo Randall and Jason Atherton to name but a few.

My role at the agency is rather unique. I work with restaurants, event such as the BBC Good Food Show and food and drinks brands, some well established and others on the road to success. I’m there to consult them, help them with their digital image, their branding, their packaging and in some cases advise them on the product its self. I then help them to communicate their brand and product to the press and eventually to the consumer.

Every day is different; this morning for instance I had breakfast with Alice Lervine and Laura Jackson, who you’ll know of if you’re a fan of Radio 1 or the London supper club movement. We met to talk about a new frozen cocktail ice lollipop brand at The Dean Street Town House – the food was amazing. A great perk to the job.  

Last week I spent the afternoon with a client of mine, Chef James Walters, in Borough Market, learning about the diversity of tahini and Levantine foods and I'm feel very lucky to be able to work closely with Instagrammers such as Clerkenwell Boy, Symmetry Breakfast and Food Feels, and bloggers such as Nicola Milbank.

No two days are the same, and like most jobs there are challenges but finally, after 10 years, a degree in marketing, 8 years in design and advertising and qualifications in Patisserie I finally feel that I’ve found something that I’m really good at, and something that I love doing. My clients, when they discover that I studied here, seem to respect my opinion far more as they understand that it comes from a place of experience.

As I mentioned, whilst studying towards my patisserie diploma I wrote a blog, detailing my experiences week by week. I’d like to read you a very short extract;

It seems crazy to me that only a matter of months ago I was stood in the patisserie kitchen at Le Cordon Bleu, dazed and confused having just quit my job and moved 120 miles down the M4 to the city of London. I’m surrounded by 18 year old school leavers, wearing Crocs, something I swore upon the fashion bible that I'd NEVER do, a pristine white jacket and a hat not too dissimilar to that of a naval officer.

When I met my form for the very first time I was prepared to have to work twice as hard as the school and university leavers surrounding me, those who still remembered how to revise, and three times as hard as those who'd worked in the catering industry prior.

I was prepared to have to grasp the sciences and tackle my inability to retain the French language. You see, I gave up studying towards my French GCSE after scoring 2% on a test paper. The marks gained, I believe, were for correctly naming and dating my answer sheet. The rest was utter tripe, but I felt ready to learn all that Le Cordon Bleu had to teach me about the art of French pastry, which now, in theory, I know. My time at Le Cordon Bleu was by no means easy, but it was worth it in every way.

Finally I’m going to say this to you. Well done. What you’ve achieved already is incredible and I’m more than confident that you’ll all go on to achieve great things. If you want to become a chef, become a chef – go out there and be the best chef you can be! Take inspiration from Mother Nature, push boundaries, and don’t be afraid of the competition or the hard work. Instead let it drive you. And if you don’t want to be a chef, don’t be a chef! The options really are endless and the name ‘Le Cordon Bleu’ is like a golden key - it opens so many doors. This is just the beginning – all you need to do now, is to carve the right path for you.

The way I like to think about it, is that sometimes your passion is who you should be, and it is so amazing to wake up in the morning and know that what my passion is, is what my job is. What ever you decided to do after today, make sure that you’re passionate about it, and then it’ll never feel like work. I promise.  Good luck and thank you for listening!

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