Travel Tuesdays #1 - Tofu&Tempeh
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Travel Tuesdays #1

So just to go over what Travel Tuesdays is going to be in case anybody missed the previous post (what, seriously!?), I shall be posting weekly segments from my very own e-book ‘Travel like a Foodie’.

This week’s section looks out my somewhat pathetic two month stint at catering college. It doesn’t so much give an inside look at what goes on at these sorts of colleges but instead, really just tells the story of a boy with too much of a sensitive disposition to make it in the harsh world that is catering. I always feel a little arrogant telling people to enjoy my writing, but I suppose it’s better than telling you not to enjoy it..sooo….. enjoy!

My Catering College experience 

My love of food and cooking made me take the plunge to walk away from academia and into the heat of the kitchen and my word, it was hot!

I attended Westminster Catering College, which has a reputation of being one of the best of its kind in the world.

On my very first day I was late; the train was packed and I thought I would wait just a few minutes for the next one so I could get a seat. I thought this was fair enough; it was hideously early in the morning, and I a spindly sort of character with scoliosis; what and I’m expected to stand!? I sprinted from the station, but to no avail, the classroom door already shut. I knocked on the door of the classroom as timidly as it is humanly possible to knock on a door. I received, how should I put it, a rather stern telling off (I’m keeping this family friendly!). The chef was an intimidating Scottish man (not Ramsey!), he told me ‘I would never be late again’ – he was right.

After a week of mainly boring work on food theory; ‘if you touch raw meat, you will die’, that sort of thing, we were finally in the kitchen.

Roast chicken, fish and chips, soups, among other things were practiced in this first rotation. This was the most enjoyable experience I had at college, but even here I wasn’t overly happy. I know it was early days, but I wanted to jazz it up a bit with my own personal flair and not stick so rigidly to the cookbook.

I learnt certain tips however; don’t use a high edged baking tray when roasting chicken and to lay the bird on a mirepoix of vegetables – carrots, celery, leeks and onions; makes for a cracking roast. I also picked up some fancy cheffing terminology, like mirepoix!

Remember the big, scary Scottish man I was telling you about, well it was time to enter his kitchen. Endless intimidation tactics and tellings off were his main teaching methods. This rotation seemed to last for an absolute age, with I dreading each and every day, and when your alarm is set for 05:30am, the snooze button becomes a very tempting mistress.

I remember one particular occasion in which I was sent out of the kitchen. The corridor was a scary place, with chefs eyeing you up and down, leaving you with the sense that you are under constant surveillance, terrified in case you drop your military like stance, or let one’s hands resort to the safety of one’s pockets. I was called back in, where too afraid to ask what I had missed, set about cutting the tortillas we were making. But oh know, Lord above, they were meant to go in the fridge before being cut. Chef then asked if I had mental problems (on more than one occasion) and ordered me out of his kitchen once again. Bearing in my mind that my crime was cutting a tortilla before refrigeration, I felt this was a tad harsh.

Now, I wouldn’t have minded (as much) if we were making something the least bit exciting or challenging, but the whole of this rotation centered around making sandwiches and salads. Saying that, I couldn’t even cut a tortilla without error, so who I am I to comment!

But for about a fortnight we chopped onions and cut open baguettes. I started to think that I could not go on much longer (that sounds quite dramatic on paper).

When we were finally finished the sandwich making rotation and we entered a real kitchen, one where we would be making and serving food for the college’s cafe, I decided to stay a while longer. I thought away from a certain someone and with a more creative, exciting, challenging experience ahead, things would improve.

While I was happier there, the pressure one feels in the kitchen is something that I really didn’t enjoy. I always felt just ten seconds away from a stern telling off and dreaded having to ask for any sort of help. It wasn’t for me. As I say, sensitive disposition.

I was taking more and more sick days and at times claimed I was feeling rather unwell even when I did go in. Afterall, we had been taught that we can’t cook other people’s food when ill, so going home was the only option (at least I listened to the theory!). After a, let’s be honest here, pathetic two months, I decided enough was enough, handed in my notice and walked through the exit doors with a wide grin on my face.

Fortunately, my school let me back in to belatedly start my A-levels in November. I can report that those two months at catering college were by far more stressful, intense and difficult than a year and a half studying and completing my A-levels. That’s not meant to imply a level of arrogance, but more to state the intensity that was catering college.

I understand the need to start with the basics, but to be so strict and intimidating to first year students, I feel is not only unnecessary, but also unproductive and stifling. There are different ways to gain respect. All that a certain someone gained from me with his manner was a less productive chef, too scared to try anything on his own back or ask any questions; particularly questions in relation to tortilla preparation. To this day, Mexican remains my least favourite cuisine.

I don’t mean to be dramatic (again), but my experience at catering college has left certain mental scars. For one, every time I hear a Scottish accent, I honestly get a bit nervous, I’m now firmly a Jamie Oliver man over that Ramsey fella. Also, I have had to change my alarm from the one I used to use to wake me up for college every morning, as when I hear it, I start to feel all anxious – I definitely wasn’t cut out to be a chef!

I wouldn’t advise against catering college, but expect extremely early mornings, the scariest of people and it must be something that you know will be an all consuming experience. I knew these things before going in (though I did expect a more encouraging atmosphere), but in practice, I clearly couldn’t hack it. Perhaps Westminster is a little antiquated in its practices and other collages have moved with the times that has seen less authoritarian kitchens.

Most of all, if you love cooking and you are prepared for a long slog to pass as a qualified chef then go for it. I clearly wasn’t right for it, but love cooking at home now, where I can be more creative and stress free, and most importantly away from anybody even remotely Scottish!

 

So, there we go. Next week on Travel Tuesdays, we begin the real journey. I bet you can all barely hold back your excitement!

Thanks for checking out Travel Tuesdays, if you wish, please share, if you liked, please like, if you have something to say, please comment.

Till we meet again,
Alex

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