Adding that professional touch
Hello my name is Donna Henry and I live and work at Riverside Cottage Guest House and the newly founded Mad Henry’s Vintage Tea Room in Bideford, Devon. Seven years ago when I worked in the city, I wouldn’t hesitate to book myself onto the relevant industry standard courses to help me further my career; make my work easier or more efficient or simply as a way to be able to request the best contract rates. Yet, for the entire time I’ve operated the guesthouse and now the tea room I’ve had no professional industry training of any kind (oh apart from Food & Hygiene Course) and find myself frustrated about how I’m doing day to day tasks, expecting they can be done better; more efficiently from both a financial and time aspect. Plus, I want to and need to elevate my skills to that next level particularly around presentation and refinement of my vintage afternoon tea baking and soon the 3 course evening meals for the supper club.
This got me to thinking about my personal development and why not? Most certainly an area which has been neglecting in attention for some time now and I love to learn and this would be something I really want to do, not just for more pay or through peer pressure.
In the early days, I did search for cookery courses and cake decoration courses but was always despondent, as they always seem to cost thousands of pounds, over an intensive week, in some fancy kitchen and miles away from where I live. However; I was surprise to find, this time, that starting my search at the local college (Petroc College in Barnstaple) provided me a choice of 3 professional courses and in their new state of art commercial kitchen.
So the description sounded perfect: NVQ Diploma in Professional Cookery (City & Guilds):
Become a professional chef by completing these industry standard qualifications. You’ll gain a high standard of cookery skills from processes, such as roasting and frying to commodities, whilst also learning other workplace essentials like menu design.
The Diploma in Professional Cookery is for anyone who works or wants to work as a chef in the catering and hospitality sector. It is ideal for learners coming straight from school who wish to seek a career in this industry. It is also ideal for those chefs in industry who would like to continue or refresh their knowledge by undertaking topics within the qualification. Sold!
I was invited by the tutor to come along and see if it was something I would be interested in and during the break I found myself sitting in the guidance centre (where you enrol and talk money) talking, money. Again, I was surprise to know that even at my age and being self-employed, I qualified for a bursary for 60% of the course and the rest on a monthly instalment plan. I now have to provide a set of accounts from the guesthouse showing a joint income of £18K, which of course it is much less. What income? We do it for the love of it!
So, next week I will return with the relevant set of accounts and fully enrol for a year.
Back to college
On the morning of college I was actually as excite as I was when I did start college, back in the day. Only now, I am 44 years old and everyone is far younger and dressed far cooler than me. Nevertheless, I was very excited and full of anticipation. Hoping this was not going to be just home economics class all over again. I did joke to Simon (my husband), saying:
“If they’re just making quiche it might not be the course for me…” I make these daily for the tea room and I think they’re pretty good.
After farting around in the car park (long stay, short stay), then not knowing exactly which building or floor to go to – I was helpfully directed to the Lifestyle building…oh “lifestyle building” how exciting. I was of course 10 mins late for the 1:30 start…but followed the sign pass, the home economics class room for the full time students (phew) and through the double doors to the “Commercial Kitchen”.
I pushed open the doors with confidence and enthusiasm asking, when the tutor looked up:
“Are you John Gavin?”
“Yes, come in, I’ll speak with you in a few minutes.”
As I went further into the kitchen the class were half way through being briefed on the recipe projected on the wall:
Should I stay or should I go?
John is a lovely soft spoken, gentle man and someone I warmed to instantly. I could enjoy being taught a lesson or two by him and immediately I was. Apart from not being dressed cool for college I was inappropriately dressed for the kitchen too it seemed.
No chefs whites/jacket (yes, I said chef), no work shoes (flip flops no good then) and no kitchen net or hat.
Apparently, in the real world I would have been sent home. Not something I need to consider in my own domestic kitchen…only thing, it’s not just a domestic kitchen anymore is it?
Now, suitably attired I joined the rest of the class. Including me, there are 12 of us.
I made that quiche; it did look very professional in fact better looking than any I’d ever made before, even tasted better I thought. We later made soda bread, which was a first for me as I normally use my trusty bread machines – but I was pleasantly surprised it was scrummy. We all paid just £2.00 to take away our creations, which Simon and I enjoyed immensely for our tea that night.
Before leaving and after further discussions with John, after class, I was eager for more and realised he tutored another course which was probably equally suitable for me, which had also started 1 week earlier. This course was another certified course in patisserie & confectionery. I signed up there and then. There go my Mondays and Wednesdays. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon.
Final words: if you can spare the time check out your local college courses and do that thing you’ve been putting off or didn’t know you wanted to do. I’ve found it’s really inspiring and like me, you might even love it!