Born and raised in Devon, Alan joined Ashburton Cookery School in 2012, having began his career at The White Hart in stunning Dartington, at the time home to the world-famous Dartington Arts College. Under the guidance of chef David Beasley, who teaches our Academy students in the science of foraging, he was sent to Exeter College to further his culinary skills. Whilst there, he met another soon-to-be Ashburton Chef Tutor, Phil Oram, who he praises as being instrumental in the development of his career.
We caught up with Alan to find out a little more about him, and the journey that bought him to Ashburton Cookery School.
HI ALAN, CAN YOU PLEASE TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND IN THE INDUSTRY?
After I left Exeter College, I moved to Padstow, where I worked for two and a half years under Rick Stein. There I got to learn a lot about being part of a very big set-up. From working with all of the fish, that of course he’s famous for, to working in the Patisserie section, and finally running the pastry department.
Then I decided to broaden my horizons and worked for a boutique hotel group in Scotland, which included opening up a business from scratch, which was a really important part of the learning process. Then, after a couple of years, I decided I wanted to be back in the Westcountry. I became part of the opening team for Harvey Nichols in Bristol. I was a Junior Sous Chef in their top floor restaurant, where I took forward a new team. This is really where I refined my skills.
Finally, I completed my journey back home, working at The Waterside Bistro in Totnes, and eventually joining Ashburton Cookery School in 2012, linking up with my my old tutor, Phil. So, it really came full circle for me, and I haven’t looked back since.
WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE, GOING INTO TEACHING?
Initially, it seems strange engaging with students, when you’re used to being in a busy kitchen, where there’s no time to be sociable. That took a little while to get used to. Now of course, it’s one of the things I enjoy most about the job. Whether it’s teaching someone to cut an onion for the first time, or inspiring someone to go home and take their cooking to the next level, it’s incredibly rewarding.
DO YOU THINK YOU’VE CHANGED AS A COOK SINCE YOU JOINED THE SCHOOL?
Teaching has made me fall in love with food all over again. The fact that we’ve got the ability to slow down and respect ingredients, and provence of food. Plus we get to work with all the best ingredients, which doesn’t hurt either.
WHAT IS IT YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT TEACHING?
The great thing is every day is different. I might be teaching a one-day bread course, followed by a week-long Patisserie program, then spending time with the Academy students, which is very much a different mind-set in your approach to teaching.
IN WHAT WAY IS THE APPROACH DIFFERENT?
For those who need to start thinking as a professional, organisation is the key. If you set out your day from the beginning, and you’re organised throughout the whole process, then everything is easy and enjoyable. However, if you’re complacent at the beginning, you’ll always be playing catch-up, you won’t enjoy it as much, and it really will show in the quality of your work.
Naturally, we want the learning process for our Academy students to be as fun as possible, but the emphasis is much more on the enjoyment on the leisure courses. There’s not that pressure there.
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE MOST BENEFICIAL PART OF THE ACADEMY COURSES?
I like to put myself in the shoes of our students. Had these programs been around when I trained, I would have loved to have done it. The exposure in that period of time is astronomical. Both for the content, and then to pave the way for a future career.
WHICH IS YOUR FAVOURITE LEISURE COURSE TO TEACH?
I really enjoy teaching the courses that give you a broad spectrum of skill-sets, like the one-day fish course. On that course, you’ll explore the quality points of fish, through to filleting, and the cooking process. That’s what I really enjoy.
IF YOU HAVE A GROUP OF FRIENDS OVER, DO YOU HAVE A GO-TO CUISINE OR DISH?
I work on bit of a ‘one tray wonder’ really. Maybe a pre-made Coq Au Vin or Lasagne that I can put through the oven, so I can enjoy a glass of wine and catch up with my friends, rather than being stuck in the kitchen.
LASTLY, WHAT’S THE MOST COMMON QUESTION YOU GET ASKED AS A CHEF?
People always want to know what I cook when I get home. For me, I don’t always want to be cooking as soon as I get through the door, so typically, one or two days a month, I’ll get a lot of produce in, and I’ll get things made and frozen down, so I can organise myself, and there’s no fuss when I get home at the end of the day.
A GOOD SYSTEM THERE ALAN, THANKS FOR TALKING TO US.