Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Humber ! Canada

Hi there,
My name is Louise Mcgrath , I’m currently in my third year studying in Humber college in Canada for my first semester of the international year. I picked Humber as it similar to WIT. I came to Canada on my own which I found quite hard for first week. I was was lucky to find group of cit students here. This gave me a feeling of home, also easier to fit in. I was in America last year so the culture shock wasn’t massive but still took getting used to again. I was still surprised on two country’s speaking the same language, but still there was a small bit of a language barrier. This is due to the different words they use for different things like telling the time. This can cause little confusion in kitchen at times.
My course is like the two year course in WIT, which a little easy at times. It is a very cultured class, most people in my class, their first language isn’t English. This can be difficult to communicate sometimes as some of their English is poor. For this reason I would advise anyone looking to come to Humber to study , to come with another person in your class. The lectures are so nice and very helpful !
accommodation in Humber. The best way I can describe the accommodation is like in zoey 101. You have your own bedroom on a large floor (like a hotel floor), shared bathrooms. Don’t have your own kitchen, you eat in the canteen. Living on campus though is a very good way to make friends. Free gym and classes on campus too. Bus station on campus.
Ignite is student run group. They organize differently nights out. Example of one was a paint party night which was really fun , but washing paint out of hair for a while!
The international office organized a trip to Niagara Falls which included free bus and lunch. 

Saturday, 28 September 2019

The road to Riverford

My process in finding my work placement 

As I said in my last post I have always been interested in environmental issues and conscious of the need for better, more sustainable practices. I, however, was and still am a hypocrite. I knowingly practice an unsustainable lifestyle… but I am trying to change. I have begun a slow and mostly imperfect journey to reduce my plastic consumption in the hopes of going plastic free. Someday I wish to go waste free, but I believe in tackling mole hills before I hit the mountains. All that being said I want to be better; I want to make Greta proud and take action right now. I don’t want to wait around to be proactive and productive in my sustainable journey.

I guess I should slow my roll and explain a little about what I understand sustainability to be, make absolutely no mistake I do not claim, nor do I believe I am any kind of an expert in sustainability. More like a tiny fish in a sea filled with plastic (if you’ll allow me an awful pun). For any second-year students reading this, most of what you’re about to read should seem familiar to you as It’s come from Quinn’s notes.

Sustainability is the ability to live in balance with the world around us, to ensure that future generations will have the same ability to live in balance with the world around them. That sounds easy enough, however the present system that we live in uses far too many natural resources too quickly. The earth isn’t capable of restoring these resources at a pace that is deemed sustainable for future generations. Although we are feeling some of the effects of the climate crisis, heat waves and extreme winters to name just two. Realistically, the majority of these effects will be felt by future generations.

To understand sustainability we must understand that it is a tree part system, known as the pillars of sustainability. To ignore one of the pillars is to ensure the mutually assured destruction of all three. The three pillars are; social, meaning all the communal and social aspects that we as human beings need to lead happy fulfilled lives, no one can or would want to sustain a society that has no society or community. Economic, meaning all financial aspects of a society, economy is an important part of any society as it is how money is made and shared. Environment, meaning any and all ecosystems within a society, human or animal alike. of course a massively important part of sustainability and it has for too long been the most neglected pillar of sustainability. Science has been warning us of the damage we have been doing, but it is only now that we are really waking up to what it all means. To the damage we’ve already done and to the damage will we do if we don’t change the tide of unsustainability. It’s important that we accept our responsibility in the environmental changes we’re seeing and take action to ease to the change.

Hope is not lost, we can make small steps (at first) until we can leap headfirst into a different, without doubt, but better more sustainable lifestyle. My first steps have been the easiest steps a person can take. I stopped using cosmetics or beauty products that came in plastic; I use a shampoo bar that contains coconut oil which covers all my hair needs, I have a bar of soap both come in recycled carboard boxes so no plastic. I have purchased a metal double blade safety razor, so I don’t have to rely on disposable razors (unfortunately the blades come in a plastic holder that is packaged in some plastic. I have a metal water bottle and a bamboo coffee cup that I (try to) take with when I go out. I have begun buying my essentials like toilet paper and laundry soap from zero waste shops that use recycled paper and allow you to refill your jugs of laundry soap. I also purchase my fruits and vegetables with as little plastic as possible wherever possible from local vegetable shops. I buy my meat (yes, I still eat meat I just choose local organic sustainable meats) from local butchers, once they get over the initial shock of it, they’ll happy allow you to use our own containers instead of their plastic bags. All these small steps do make an impact, I know this, but I didn’t feel like it was enough of an impact as I went to work every day and unpacked already washed and peeled vegetables from plastic bags.

Although I liked my job I felt as if I was never going to make any effect on the climate crisis if I spent my entire career unpacking plastic wrapped vegetables. So I began to wonder, how could the job be different so that it didn’t have to come vac-packed?

My process from vegetable-based restaurants to organic farm/restaurants.

In the most dramatic fashion a person can describe a situation I had a little bit of a crisis in career choice. I knew I couldn’t give up on my sustainable journey, it was what felt right to me. I couldn’t come to terms with how I could be a chef if it meant relying on plastic packaged goods flown in from massive mono-cropped farms? That’s when it struck me, it didn’t have to be this way. Surely there had to be place that cared about the food and the environment? I just had to find it. I began my search looking at vegetarian and vegan restaurants, although a good start, after some deeper digging I discovered that some vegetarian/vegan restaurants still rely on plastic wrapped produce. What about fine dining? One my lecturers asked me, so I did look into them. If I’m honest fine dining has never really appealed to me, too much pomp – not enough circumstance. But look I did non the less. A lot more respect is shown for the produce; where it comes from, how it’s produced and, in some situations, even how well the producers are paid for the produce. However, ultimately the gourmet end of the spectrum was still not the right fit I was looking for. It might not have relied on plastic wrapped packing, the food wastage was such that I couldn’t ignore it.

That’s when I began looking for different types of eateries, I wanted to know all the varieties of establishments in which I could work i.e. hotel, cafes, restaurants, diners, factories etc. it was in this search that I was discovered organic farms and restaurants. The closest thing I could compare it to in Ireland would be Ballymaloe. These are establishments that have some kind of restaurant that serves food obtained from a (usual onsite) garden and/or polytunnel. I knew this was exactly the kind of place I wanted to work for. These are the kinds of establishments that work in harmony with the environment around them not only because they want to but because they must. They rely on their environment to supply them with locally produced products.

Once I knew the kind of place I wanted to work for, I needed to find the right place to work for. I began researching different types of farm restaurants, not all are the same or uphold an equally sustainable ethos. Through this research (I know it sounds like I did loads of research but honestly a couple of google searches and some Wikipedia reading can teach you a lot) I devised a list of qualities I wanted from my work placement. I wanted to work from an organic, local, ethical restaurant with either an onsite or affiliate farm where they sourced their produce.

As I don’t speak a second language with enough command to feel comfortable working in a kitchen that didn’t speak English my choices in where I could search for my placement where limited to English speaking countries. I choose to keep my search within the U.K and Northern Ireland for sheer convenience. There where no places that met my criteria in Northern Ireland, however, I did find a place in England (Riverford Organic Farm – Riverford Field Kitchen), Scotland (Pillars of Hercules) and Wales (Rhug Estate). I was excited about my decisions, despite some grumbles from a lecturer about spending my year hanging out with hippies (which I’m doing anyway, in a funny twist of irony). I took my chances and applied to all of them in the hopes of hearing back.

Now when I say I applied; I don’t mean I filled in some pre-existing application form. I found contact information on their websites to whomever I thought was closest to the chef. I emailed them explaining who I was, that I was looking for a work placement and why I wanted to work for their restaurant. Only two responded, Pillars of Hercules in Scotland and Riverford in England. My two top choices where Rhug estate and Riverford, so of course I choose Riverford.

Glyn, the general manager in the Field Kitchen - the restaurant associated and located on the original site of Riverford Organic Farms, was my initial contact. I spoke to him through email and explain in more detail who I was, what I was hoping to do and the parameters of the work placement in terms of the college’s needs. He was very kind and open to the idea of the placement, referred to as an apprenticeship in the U.K. I was honest and told him that I was hoping to get to speak to or work with some of the farmers in the hopes of learning about their way of organic growing. Unbeknownst to me the Field Kitchen has a Field Garden, a small garden and polytunnel where food is grown for show and use in the kitchen. So, Glyn arranged for me to do a two-part apprenticeship, I would work two days in the garden with Penny, the gardener and three days working with the chefs in the Field Kitchen.

I must admit it was difficult for me to decide to follow my gut and go to Riverford. I heard grumbles from a few who told me I was wasting my time, that what I was looking for couldn’t exist. Well, they were wrong. Riverford is above and beyond what I could have imagined. They care about the food, the environment, their local community, their employees and their customers. It’s a shining example of what a business can be when care is put into the effort not just the outcome. If you’re questioning your choice in placement, don’t! Don’t be afraid to try something outside the kitchen either, its great fun to learn and work outside or at least outside the confines of a hot kitchen.

My process to Totnes

I began my search before Christmas of second year, but it wasn’t affirmed that I was going to Riverford until March or April of the following year. So don’t panic if it feels like impending doom come second semester, that’s normal. It can take a long time to sort a placement, especially if you’re the first one to have a placement there.

In terms of money, although I had spent months saving for the placement year, I still lived a life and the savings I had didn’t feel like they were going to be enough to get me over, settled and comfortable. I took out a small loan from my credit union. When I got my first installment of my Eurasmus+ grant I paid a good portion of it back. Realistically I probably just end up taking out another loan for second semester and use my Eurasmus+ money to pay some of that off, but it works for me. I know everyone’s already telling you to start saving but really do, things get so expensive when you have to uproot your life. Its little things that you don’t think of that end up getting to be the most expensive. For instance, I had to drop £100 on a bike because there’s no public transport that travels to Riverford. I also bought things for comfort or entertainment in the house that made me feel more at home there.

I used my loan to book my original flights, as well as a trip home to Ireland for a family wedding, all my travel needs as well as my air B&B and my housing needs. You’d be surprised how quickly money files out the door when you’ve none coming in. All of this was paid for before I’d even begun my first day at Riverford and don’t forget the joys of working a line week.

I flew into Exeter on the 12th of June, five days before I was meant to start work. In hindsight I’m glad I gave myself those few days as it allowed me time to arrange housing, transport and explore the local area a little. I took a bus from the airport to the train station, where I got a train directly to Totnes. The first thing I did in Totnes was to get a U.K. sim card, this was a nightmare story for another day, but I recommend getting a U.K. sim card as quick as you can as google maps is a life saver. Once I got that I set out to find my air B&B, I original booked myself for one night in the air B&B but due to some issues with housing that I had prearranged falling through I stayed a second night. I was able to find a nice top floor room in a shared house in the town centre on I pay £100 a week, all bills included. The bike I bought is a great investment, it’s a good sturdy bike that I purchased from a bike shop in the town. It had been fully refurbished with new parts before I bought it. It came with a three-month service warrant as well. It takes me 35 minutes to cycle into work as I’m not the most physically fit and a lot of it is uphill. Luckily Devon is a very cyclist friendly area so most of the journey is on a national cycle path or mostly unused country roads. There are plenty of cycle friendly paths to explore the local area and carriages on trains for bikes so you can take it with you to explore other areas.

So this has been my general long-winded description of my story. I hope it wasn’t to much, but then if you’ve gotten to the end then it couldn’t have been to bad for you. As I’m all for a quick and easy round up of information I’m going to leave a little list of tips/recommendations for anyone going through this process too. None of it might be of any use to you, but sure look it was helpful to me so why not throw it up here?

Don’t be afraid to drop me a message if you’re looking for an info about Riverford or work placements in general. 😊

  • ·        Start thinking about where you’d like to work, the dream, and go from there.
  • Start researching and prepping early, the sooner you know the sooner you can get plans made.
  • Overestimate the money you’ll need by at least a third.
  • Book as far in advance as possible.
  • Book as many house viewings in advance as you can, book them on the same day if possible. Expect some of them to fall through, they definitely will.
  • Be ready to pay two months rent upfront, one for rent one for the deposit.
  • Research all the local travel options before you decide, if you’re not prepared to walk or cycle some areas might not suite you.
  • If you are going to cycle rent or buy a bike as soon as you can.
  • House sharing websites are a great place to find just a room for rent in a local area. Be sure to tell them you’re a student there for a limited time, they might offer you a reduced rate.
  • Book a B&B, hostel, hotel or some other sort of accommodation before you go, book for at least two nights. Never expect to be in a house right away. If you’re using a personal air B&B or other B&B be sure to tell them you’re a student, I got a discount at my air B&B.
  • Buy a local sim card, splurge for the unlimited data, facetime eats up lots of credit but is great for keeping up with family and friends. 
  • Look up local attractions, go out and explore like a tourist. Its great fun and when in your life will you be paid to be a tourist?
  • If you can, book a small trip home. Its great for the homesick and talking about your placement reminds you why you’re there.
  • Set yourself some goals, personal and professional, try to achieve them.
  • Allow yourself to try new things.
  • Allow yourself the privilege of ignorance, by this I mean don’t be afraid to admit don’t know something and learn how to do it. This is meant to be a year of learning, no one is expecting you to come in knowing how to do it, that’s why you’re there after all.
  • Keep a journal, just for yourself. Its amazing how much you forget about your experiences. Its nice to read over them to remember in your own words. 

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Adventures in Sustainable Cheffing at Riverford

Me: Yasmine 

My name is Yasmine and I’m currently on my third-year work placement in Devon England at an organic farm and restaurant called Riverford. 

I have always been environmentally conscious, now so more than ever. So I knew I wanted to work somewhere that had an environmentally sustainable ethos that focused on a mainly vegetable based menu. I also wanted to try to acquire some knowledge and experience in a garden or farm that would aid me in better understanding where my food comes from and how best I, as a chef, can use that food.  I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant in terms of a job, if I’m honest I’m still not 100% sure what it means in terms of a job. However, after some research online I was able to find some organic farm/restaurants and hotels with onsite gardens.

Although I wasn’t sure what I could offer these places, having little to no knowledge of organic farming or even vegetarian cuisine. I tried my luck and got a placement at my top preference! Riverford Organic Farms is an LTD company that supplies 100% certified organic vegetable and recipes boxes to customers all across the UK.  The company was founded 30 years ago by Guy Watson. The company has since grown to encompass 3 other farms across the UK. The company has official been 87% employee owned for an entire year now and is driven by an ethos of fairness, equality, organic, fair trade or local products.
Riverfords' Logo

Ten years ago on the original site of Riverford (Wash Farm) the Riverford field kitchen was opened. The field kitchen is a quaint, cosy restaurant that serves a mostly vegetable based menu. They are certified as an organic establishment, meaning 95 -100% of the food served on the premises is organic. The food is sourced from either the Riverford farms, or other organic retailers. All our meats, dairy, fish, spices, oils, flours, wines, spirits, teas and coffee are also certified organic and fair trade wherever possible.

The Field Kitchen is a reservation only restaurant in which only two services are done in a day, lunch and dinner. Customers call up to make a reservation, they are asked how many guests, their dietary restrictions and their preference of a vegetarian or a meat main course - this excludes Mondays, as they are a designated meat free day and on Fridays’ we offer only fish as a meat main course. We cater to all dietary restrictions (Gluten free, dairy free, vegan, vegetarian, etc.) We also cater to individual allergens or pregnancy related dietary restrictions.

Field Kitchen

Event Yurt and outdoor seating area for the Field Kitchen.

Riverford: Path connecting the main building, the Field kitchen and the staff canteen and smoking area. 

Field Kitchen inside, set for service. 
Guests are asked to arrive 30 mins before service, 12:30 for lunch/6:30 for dinner in order to be seated. Customers are also welcome, and often do, stroll around the farm to check out the Field Garden (the polytunnel and attached field used to grow some products for the kitchen and well as cut flowers used for decoration in the Field Kitchen.) The restaurant works in a ‘self-service’ style, where platters are brought to the table for customers plate themselves. Any individual plates sent are due to dietary restrictions. In order to ensure there is enough for all, servers do remind customers to be respectful of their fellow diners.

Menu: Each lunch and dinner service menu is different. No menu is ever repeated, although some aspects might be the same or similar. The menu is completely dependent on what food we have available to us at that time on that day. 

As a part of my placement I am working in both The Field Kitchen and The Field Garden. I work (most) Mondays and Tuesdays with Penny (the incredibly informative gardener) in the Field Garden where I am learning about organic planting, growing and harvesting. This has been a wonderful experience for me so far, I am really enjoying being able to work outside and with my hands. I am learning so much about plant identification, plant variety and all the different uses for plant parts.
Field Garden: Beds at beginning of summer ready for the season.

The Field Kitchen Polytunnel

Field Garden:Smaller polytunnel and crops

Pop-up BBQ: Open fire cooking outside the polytunnel, dinner served inside the polytunnel. 

Field Garden beds

Pop-up BBQ 

Field Garden: Cut flowers grown for decoration in the Field Kitchen.

Field Garden: Cut flowers, grown to be dried in the Field Kitchen as decoration. 

I also work in The Field Kitchen alongside the very talented chefs. As it is a vegetable-based restaurant a lot of my time is spent sorting, storing, washing/scrubbing and prepping vegetables. I love it though! I’ve already seen and tasted some delicious vegetable varieties I’ve never had before. I’ve also learned how simple additions to a plate of vegetables can really make it a meal... my new favourite thing is pesto dressed greens, AMAZING!

It’s the 19st of September which means I’ve just begun my 4th month (of a total of six months). I have to say so far, I’m loving this experience. It’s been an adjustment, being away from friends, family and home, but it’s been so wonderful getting to learn so many new things. I’m really looking forward to learning more! Although I’m excited to share Riverfords’ sustainable-organic ethos with others I know I will miss working with such incredible ingredients and my inspiring colleagues who share my passion for sustainability.

If you are thinking of following down a sustainable path in your career, I cannot recommend Riverford enough, the thought and care that is put into the food (and the general work life) is beyond repute. Although it can be difficult being in such a quaint area of England, there are no night clubs or pub crawls to be had any where near me, the beauty of this area makes up for it. I’ve seen some of the most unimaginably beautiful gardens and heritage sights. However, if you are looking for a bit of excitement, Plymouth and Bristol are both on the direct train line from Totnes, both are college cities and full of the craic!

If you'd like to see some of my never regular posts about my life here in Totnes and all I've been learning so far feel free to look up #AdventuresInSustainableCheffing on instagram, where I have shared some experiences and I will try to be better with sharing more about life here in Totnes and working in Riverford. 

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Time to say goodbye!

Heya! Shannon here checking in with my final post about my time here up north!

This year has gone so quickly, its crazy. It's hard to believe how fast the time went. So my time at the Cultra has been all but quiet. Things have picked up coming into the summer months. We have a lot more tours and groups and party's plus our usual Sunday buffet, it's all go.

The Sunday buffet is a nice break from the same service we do every day and night. It's a way for us to try out new dishes. These are some pictures from the last buffet I did Before I finished at the Cultra Inn. It's a very popular option for Sunday lunch with numbers of 100+. I also had the pleasure of working with the most amazing team towards the end of my placement. There was a few members of staff that had left but the ones that joined just added to my experience there.

Besides work, I tried to make the most of the time I had left in Belfast. I dont have many pictures to document what I did. There's so many things to do in Belfast, in particular, I love game of thrones and considering some of the episodes were filmed in Northern Ireland there's tours, exhibitions and escape rooms. Also there is murals in stained glass around Belfast called Glass of Thrones. 

Despite how fast the time went, I am so thankful I got the chance to have this year abroad. It has been such an amazing experience. I am so grateful to all the people who contributed to making my time in Belfast so special.

I wish you all the best on your travels and hope you found these posts helpful.

Half way there!

Hello everyone, Shannon here.

The time is flying by so quickly up here, I'm half way through my work placement semester in Belfast. It has been quite a journey so far, to say the least. The Cultra Inn is a very busy spot on the grounds of the Culloden Hotel. When I first started, it wasn't that busy here as schools were still on and there weren't many holidays. Since then, there has been some mid-terms so things have picked up a lot. The number of guests we serve on a daily basis vary, the weekends are very busy but the odd time the mid week days can be busy also.

I've spent most of my time on starters and desserts, running the section on my own at this stage. It has been a struggle at times, but that comes with working in a kitchen. The menu is the same as when I started but it gives me room to play around and work on my plating.

The social aspect of my time up here has certainly grown. I have made a lot more friends and have been trying to go out and experience the nightlife in Belfast more but also trying more restaurants.

There is such a wide variety of places to eat and drink in Belfast. My favorite so far has to be a karaoke bar called Tutti Frutti's. The food there is amazing and the cocktails are very good too! I would definitely recommend taking a trip to here as it was very enjoyable for me! Ideal for a group to attend.

That's all from me at the moment, I look forward to filling you in on the last half of my placement here very soon!

Reflecting on the past few months

So I left the Culloden Estate & Spa about eight weeks earlier than I had originally planned. As I left my placement early, due to personal reasons back home, I decided to take some time out before writing this blog post.

I’ve been home now for about three weeks, during this time I’ve been able to reflect on my time in the hotel. One thing I’ve noticed about my time away is that I’ve grown on an individual level. The time away allowed me to become a much more mature person. I’ve learned to be happier when on my own but also to reach out when I want company.

Another thing I have spent my time reflecting on is the friendships I’ve made while working in the Culloden. These are friendships that I’ve brought home with me, people with whom I am in regular contact, some on a daily basis. Being away from my family and friends was very tough at times, sometimes all I wanted was to be back home with them. Making friendships with people, who turned out to be like another family to me, really helped me when I was missing home.
As a chef I have grown tremendously. I’ve learned many great things while working in the hotel, from some excellent chefs. The tricks, recipes, and skills ice learned while working in the Culloden will stand by me throughout my culinary career.

Finally, I want to say that he past year has been has been one of the toughest, yet most enjoyable experiences for me so far. To anybody going on placement, Erasmus or even taking a year out to work and travel, all I say is make the most of it! Take each and every opportunity that comes your way, and don’t be afraid to try new things. These are things which you may not get the opportunity to do again so make the most of your time away!

Áine B. over and out!

The Half Way Point

I’m half way through my traineeship in the Culloden Estate & Spa. I’m really enjoying my time here up to now. So far I’ve spent the majority of my time working on the starter / sweet section of the kitchen, while also working on functions from time to time. I’m working really well on the starter / sweet section now. The menu has changed on several occasions since I began here, each time we began a new menu I was given the opportunity to contribute new ideas while the menus were being developed.

Working for functions has been a new experience in the kitchen for me. In the past I wouldn’t have gained any experience working for big functions so this was an aspect of the kitchen I was looking forward to. The hotel is host to two or three function during the average week, be it for private breakfast, corporate lunch, a ball or a wedding. Working for function of three hundred plus people has helped me greatly with my organisation withing the kitchen. Each and every function is different but, the work plan for them remain the same, this ensures the smooth running of the function.

My social life up here has certainly grown. The more time I spend working in the hotel the more friendships I made. I’ve gotten very close to a number of people up here, people I would call good friends. On my days off there’s always somebody to hang around with and maybe go for a bite to eat or even a few drinks.

There’s so many restaurants to choose from up here in Belfast. Each time I got out to eat I try to choose a new restaurant. I’ve been to some of the better known restaurants here in Belfast but I’m always on the hunt for a restaurant that’s a little less well known around the area.

That’s all I’ve got time for now. My final blog post on my time in the Culloden Estate & Spa will be posted around the time of my placement ending, which I’m already counting down the days to. Don’t get me wrong I’m really enjoying my traineeship, I’m just looking forward to getting back home to see all of my friends and family for a bit.

Áine B.