Name: Tanya Young
Graduated: June 2014
1. Can you describe the kind of cook you were before taking the course?
I was a good amateur cook but I was aged 46 when I took the course so I had been practising for quite a few years! I think friends and family would have described me as a keen and slightly obsessive cook. I have always enjoyed cooking from a young age and had been on many cookery courses but I still lacked the confidence to go ahead and start my own business within the food industry.
2. What was your motivation for choosing the Professional Culinary Diploma?
I am an accountant (Tax Specialist) and had always wanted to have a career with food but I knew all too well how difficult that was. I wanted formal professional training to learn all the secrets of the trade and give me the culinary confidence to do something food related. I decided to take the course and just trust that I would have a ‘lightbulb’ moment during the course on what to do afterwards. Because of my age I knew I would not be going to work in kitchens for Michelin star chefs, as some of my cohort did, so it was matter of deciding what I wanted to do.
I decided my ultimate goal was to be able to ‘burn the books’ not ‘cook the books’ which would be ironic being an accountant! By that, I mean that I didn’t want to follow recipes anymore – I wanted to train my palate and also be skilled and confident enough to be able to create dishes without the need to follow a recipe. I also wanted to create my own recipes.
3. What made you choose the Ashburton Chefs Academy?
I had been to Ashburton Cookery School for a week’s cookery course about 7 years before. I just loved the week and always promised myself that I would come back. We then lived abroad for 6 years and it was on returning to the UK that we decided to live in Ashburton for 8 months so that I could complete the course. I have a very supportive husband! The philosophy of the school then and now was so important to me – quality ingredients, good husbandry and understanding the food chain etc. Also, being taught by professional chefs with years of experience of working in the industry was very important.
4. What did you think of the course content and structure?
The course content and structure was excellent. We started at the very basics, which is the foundation for any skill. Every day is fast paced, high energy but exhilarating. The structure was the reverse of peeling an onion; our knowledge increased by adding layer upon layer on to what we had already learned. It was amazing to see how quickly we progressed and learned.
I loved that the course included visits to local producers such as Sladesdown Farm (which is now my poultry supplier) and Gribbles the Butchers for demonstrations in butchery, as well as practicals back at school. It encompassed every aspect needed for a proper foundation in food industry. Understanding supply chains, the financial aspects, sourcing ingredients and leadership skills; everything was covered – it was not a course where you just learn to cook.
5. What did you think of the facilities?
The facilities at the school are great. To have a dedicated kitchen, dining room & classroom for theory sessions, meant that we came to know our surroundings, just as you do when you work in a new professional kitchen. It was also a very good environment to learn in as it ended up feeling like ‘home’!
6. What did you think of the chef tutor team?
One of the other reasons for choosing Ashburton was because of the tutor team. To be taught by tutors who have worked in top restaurants around the world and had first hand experience in the industry was brilliant and fascinating. I loved the stories and tales from kitchens and also practical tips for service and prep. Each tutor has their own style so we were exposed to different ways of plating up and different methods of cooking. I personally liked this aspect as it shows that even though you must learn the foundations, once you know them you can be creative and adapt things to your own style. Also, at the end of the day it does come down to personal taste.
7. What did you think of the course overall?
Excellent. It was exactly what I wanted. To be able to spend 6 months with tutors and fellow students completely immersed in cookery was a lifetime’s ambition for me. Even if I had done nothing with my qualification it would have been a major achievement. As it is, I have gone on to use my new skills and that is because of the confidence and knowledge the course gave me.
8. Did you feel more confident in your cookery after the course?
Definitely. I think a lot of friends and family did not really understand why I wanted to do the course as they thought that I was already a good cook. But cooking for people, especially professionally, is a very personal thing. It really matters that people enjoy whatever you have created. I am now confident in my palate and happy with my ability to cook professionally. Also, having completed the course, I understand the limitations too; it’s never a good idea to do baking/patisserie without following the basic rules. Saying that, I now enjoy developing a dish and watching it evolve and I am completely relaxed when some of my ideas are only worthy of the bin!
9. Were the qualifications important to you?
To have qualifications recognised in the industry was another important part of choosing Ashburton, even though I knew I would most probably not work for anyone else. The WSET was also an excellent part of the course. I am very happy to admit that even though I had been drinking wine for a long time, it was not until I did this course that I completely got wine and food matching. It is a skill that I am still working on! At the beginning of the course I did not appreciate how fortunate we were to take the level 3 Food Hygiene certificate. The hygiene course was excellent and a higher level than most people take. It certainly helped me when setting up my own business and also on a day to day basis.
10. How have you used your cookery skills after you completed the course?
Having lived in France I had always dreamed of running a home restaurant; where I could decide what to cook based on availability, seasonality and what I fancied cooking. Not knowing the menu was always part of the fun of visiting these little restaurants, so I wanted to create a dining experience where guests could come along for dinner and enjoy top quality food in a relaxed and sociable atmosphere. With pop up restaurants becoming popular I decided to set up a home pop up restaurant and Knife & Fork
) was born!
I thought i would see if there was a demand and I have been delighted that the response has been amazing. I have been ‘ popping up’ since June 2015 and I now tend to be booked at least two months in advance, which is very flattering. I am often asked how I choose dishes and write the menu and I have to be honest, it really is what I fancy eating and cooking at that particular time. I buy the majority of my vegetables from Riverford Organics and I get excited each week when I get an email telling me what has come into season and what is available. I like to take quite a humble ingredient and allow it to shine on the plate and the palate. I would not be able to do this without the knowledge I acquired during my time at Ashburton.
11. What are your plans for the future?
I am currently setting up two en suite bedrooms as I now have dinner guests that come from quite far away and stay in the area for the night or for the weekend. Soon I will be able to offer a restaurant with rooms. I am coeliac so I have to follow a nil tolerance gluten-free diet so all of my food is gluten-free – otherwise I would not be able to taste it. I now have quite a following of GF guests who appreciate this type of dining but find it very difficult to find restaurants that properly understand what it means. Understandably, they are delighted to be able to relax and enjoy their meal and not worry about gluten and cross contamination issues and soon they will be able to stay here.
Saying that, most of my diners are not gluten-free and are amazed to hear they’ve just had a GF meal – they too will be able to book the bedrooms!
I am going to continue as I am. I have found a way to have my own little restaurant but without the typical hours of working in a conventional restaurant. Don’t get me wrong – when I am working, it is very hard work and very long hours and at anti social times. But I love what I do and feel genuinely lucky to be able to be in this position earning a living from something that I love and enjoy so much.
12. Would you recommend the course to others?
Absolutely. The course is fantastic on so many levels. I am still in touch with many of my cohort. I remember on day one Darrin saying that we would make friends for life and I looked round the room and wondered who. Now I know!
13. Do you have advice for others that are considering the course?
It is really corny but just follow your dream. I cannot describe how this has changed my life. I was an accountant for all of those years but I have never been happier than I am now. Do what makes you happy and believe in yourself – you can’t go wrong.
Professional Culinary Diploma