Thursday, 12 December 2019

The Slieve Donard, Newcastle Co Down

Hey there, my name is Calem Meehan and this is my first blog post. I’m currently working up North in The Slieve Donard Resort and Spa. The Slieve is part of a larger group called the Hastings Hotels.
Hastings Hotels is the largest independent hotel group in Northern Ireland with seven luxurious properties across the province including The Slieve Donard, The Europa, The Culloden, Stormont, Ballygally, Grand Central and the Everglades. This family owned company was established in the late 1960's.

Over my three blog posts I plan to break them down for your convenience to read and take what you need from this:
1      The first (this one) will be able Hastings, The Slieve Donard and Newcastle itself.
2      The second which will follow shortly will be a run through of my time in the kitchen, the stations I grew into and what I did from July to January.
3      Finally the last which will come when I finish up north will be a reflection, speaking about the busy Christmas period, Polar Express and New Years and any advice I have for you who may look to go.

The Slieve Donard

The Slieve Donard is nestled at the feet of the Mountains of Mourne, the Slieve stands in six acres of immaculate private grounds and boasts 180 bed rooms. A golden strand of beach borders one side while the mighty Royal County Down Golf Links frames the other. This lovingly maintained Victorian hotel is now home to one of Europe’s finest resort Spas and is equally suited to a short break, residential conference or even grander events (So many bloody events!).
Hastings Hotels purchased the Slieve Donard, an old railway hotel at the time back in 1972. After much investment over the years, many now regard the Slieve Donard as the “Gleneagles” of Northern Ireland.

It was originally built by the Belfast and County Down Railway, as an ‘end of line’ luxury holiday destination. Construction started in 1896 and was completed and officially opened on 24th June 1898. It was one of the most majestic hotels of its time and was almost self-sufficient with its own bakery, vegetable gardens, pigs, laundry and innovatively a power plant, which also provided electricity for the railway station.

Being just 30 miles (45 minutes) south of Belfast and 90 miles north of Dublin (90 minutes), the Slieve Donard is nicely situated for any adventures you may plan on your days off.


Newcastle is a small seaside resort town in County Down, Northern Ireland. It lies by the Irish Sea and is known for its sandy beach, forests (Donard Forest and Tollymore Forest Park), mountains, and the Royal County Down Golf Club. The town lies within the Newry, Mourne and Down District.
The town aims to promote itself as the "activity resort" for Northern Ireland and its most special attribute is its location. The town has benefited from a multi-million upgrade which makes it a high quality seaside attraction. The town is supposedly twinned with New Ross, Co. Wexford, but being a Waterford man I view it as another version of Tramore.

Newcastle seems to be at its peak during the summer as a getaway for family’s to come and enjoy for the day. But outside of the sun filled days and off peak hours it has little to offer, few and far between places to go for food or drinks and offers minimal entertainment outside of its few arcades. It’s ideal to drive so you can venture away on days off but not essential.

At times you may become bored of your surroundings but I didn’t move there for the location, I went there for the work which I’ll speak in depth about in my next post which will be coming very shortly!

Goodbye Toronto

Hi there, Louise here again from Toronto!

On my last few days of studying aboard and on countdown to Christmas. Different than my normal end of semester stress, as most of modules are continuous assessment I have not much study to do. The lectures here in Humber are so nice. They know from last few years of students from WIT that we are ahead of the Humber students so they have allowed me try new things and explore with different foods. I have learnt by coming here and working with different cultures that the Irish are very hard workers which we take for granted at times. I have learned about different types of food from students from many cultures. I found with other students we ended up teaching each other about different food cultures, comparing our own cultures which was very interesting. 

Irish dairy is taken for granted. Learning about Canada’s animal husbandry in class here has opened my eyes. There beef industry is massed produced (large sheds of cattle), fed on grain diets which they pay around the same price as our dairy which is produced mainly by family run farms and pasture fed. They pay so much more money for our quality meat we have in Ireland. Their cream is 35% fat compare to our cream which is 45% fat which says enough about the difference in quality of farming in dairy cattle. The taste of meat here, doesn’t have half the flavor we have in Ireland.  

We found a great place up the road from us here in Humber. The name of it was Pursuit, it is like an adult’s indoor playground. It was so much fun, has a ball pit which was surprising hard to get through. I had more visitors from home so I did Niagara Falls again, this time we booked a tour bus. It brought us to Niagara on the Lake first which I recommend going to! It was well worth a visit, was like a town out of a film. Old wooden building and small run shops. Around this area was loads of wineries which we stopped at one for wine tasting. We did the boat trip down around the falls which is well worth trip.

In November the snow started. Snowed straight for two days. Not used to this much snow at home we were like kids playing in snow, making snow angles. Toronto has Broadway! I went to see “Come From Away” which was brilliant and well worth it. The Christmas markets in Toronto are amazing and are most do in Toronto. There is also an outdoor ice rink which is so cool!

In November the snow started. Snowed straight for two days. Not used to this much snow at home we were like kids playing in snow, making snow angles. Toronto has Broadway! I went to see “Come From Away” which was brilliant and well worth it. The Christmas markets in Toronto are amazing and are most do in Toronto. There is also an outdoor ice rink which is so cool!

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Life in Mayfair!

Hi, this is Daniel writing my first blog post from London. I am working in a fine dining restaurant in Mayfair called Scott’s. We are part of a group of restaurants called Caprice holdings, it features many great restaurants such as The Ivy, J Sheeky’s and Daphnes. Scotts is about a 130 seater in the heart of Mayfair on Mount Street which is about a 10 minute walk from Buckingham palace and 10 minutes from Oxford Street.

The clientele who dine in Scott’s tend to be extremely wealthy and a lot of famous people everyday. I am on the veg section, its such a busy restaurant. We average about 500 covers a day. The produce I see coming in is nothing like I’ve seen before. Scott’s is a fish and shellfish restaurant but we do various meat dishes as well to accommodate for those who don’t eat fish. The fish comes fresh from boats all over coast of the United Kingdom, it all then goes through Billingsgate Market and delivered to our door. The consistency and quality of the food, considering the amount of covers we do is amazing.

I am really enjoying London, its such a beautiful city with a great food scene. Lots of markets everyday, there is always something to see or do. I am living in South East London in the borough of Lewisham, its slightly rough and ready but suits me down to the ground. Scott’s is in West London so it is about a 45 minute commute to work which is pretty tough. Living with two other Irish chefs from work, really handy and I’ve made a lot of new friends.

I am on the veg section, there is so much to do everyday such as soups, blanching vegetables, making purees for every section in the kitchen, portioning all the veg prior to service. Service starts at 12pm until 11:15pm straight, it gets pretty hectic! I have been there for one the most covers they ever did, we did 302 one Saturday night. Its all been pretty mad and exciting for me!

I would highly recommend anyone to go to London on their placement there is so much to see and do and more importantly great places to eat and the best restaurants to work in.

Above is a picture of our fish display in the bar which is done fresh everyday by the chefs setting up on cold section.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Life in Toronto!

Hello again,
Louise here, I am half way through my first semester here in Humber College in Toronto. Most of my modules here are in the kitchens. The level is quite easy level of cooking compare to what we have been doing in WIT.  I can see the different ways they cook and teach different cooking methods. In most classes you get to take home food which is very nice as is much better than the food in the student accommodation. The pastry class is very basic, which has its pros and cons, I am using it to know the basics very well and to try excel in them.
Getting around Toronto, we use the bus and subway (get presto card) to get into down town Toronto and use apps like lyftand uber instead of taxis as they are cheaper. Uber eats is good too for all type of food (when you get sick of the canteen food). Day trips like going to the zoo are good which we did. Itsoutside the city so we needed to get a lyft. 
Thanks giving is a long weekend in Toronto so we wanted to do something for our three days off. We found website very good. It is a website for students and trips are cheaper than trying to plan yourself. Very handy as everything is planned for you and got the stay in very nice hotels. We went up to French Canada for the weekend which cost us $289 which Is 200 euro. This included two hotels both nights, 3 cities visits, guided tour and travel on bus for whole tour. It was very pretty side of Canada and very different to Toronto. Website does long weekends and day trips. 
To anyone going on there third year, I can’t stress enough to safe as much as possible!! You want to see as much as you can where ever you go. You also don’t know when you might need the money for unexpected trips. I was lucky I had saved money for my year away. I got sudden bad news at home and had to get home as soon as I could for a funeral. I had to book flights late at night for the next day to fly home to Ireland. Last minute flights aren’t cheap but thankfully I was able to get flights and had savings. 
Just like WIT, there is a week off in the middle of the semester. I had my boyfriend visit for the week so did all the tourist things like hop on hop off bus. The hop on and hop off bus in Toronto gave me more insight into the city. Distillery region in city was my favorite and is a most do. The first semester is also in middle of fall season which is very pretty. I would recommend going to parks and forest to really see the leaves which is a big thing in Canada. I used the isx website again for a day trip. Seen many different areas on this trip like Dundas peak which is well worth seeing.

Monday, 4 November 2019

Boulangerie Jade - London

Today is Sunday the 3rd of November and I’m sitting down to write my second blog. Tomorrow I begin my 9th week of my 12 week placement. I have completed 8 full weeks of hard work! I thought that I might tell you all a little bit more about my personal experience working for Boulangerie Jade and what other things I've been up to while in London. I explained how I got my job in the patisserie but now I’m going to talk about what I think of the place and give you more of an idea of what the place is like, and what my life has been like for the last 2 months.

 (Photos show some of the products I’ve made during my internship)

Beginning the day: My day begins at 5:15am as I drag myself out of bed. Being honest, I think the early mornings were the hardest thing to get used to about my job. However, I’m lucky really, because for my first 3 weeks I started work at 5am, so my day started an hour earlier than it does now.

I quickly eat my breakfast and I head off to work, only a 10-minute walk from my house. We start the workday by setting up shop. This consists of putting out the desserts that were made the previous evening on the night shift. We then go straight into mise en place. I have been very lucky in the jobs that I am given in work. I really feel that even though I am merely an apprentice I am given a lot more responsibility because they are trying to teach me as much as possible in the short period of time that I am working there.

In the beginning they slowly trained me in with the simpler stuff such as making fruit tarts, which consists mostly of chopping strawberries in half and making some vanilla cream… Easy? I think so.

I then got to move on to making some of the fondants and being allowed to put fondant on the eclairs, which I surprisingly found more challenging than I should have! I wouldn’t say I’m an expert yet, but that fondant swishing with the wooden spoon has improved immensely. My very first time working with fondant was a little bit of a disaster. More than half of the eclairs couldn’t be sold I did such a bad job…. The head chef wasn’t too impressed with me.

However, now I get to make all the sponges for the cakes, I’m allowed to glaze the cakes, make the macaroons and even decorate the cakes. Some of the work I find repetitive, but I guess you have that in all jobs. One thing I never realised I find quite fascinating is chocolate. I really enjoy tempering chocolate and glazing the nutcrackers and Florentines with dark, milk and white chocolate. By just heating the chocolate by a degree too high, the chocolate won’t set the way one might desire. Its fun, and who doesn’t love being covered head to toe in chocolate, its most peoples dream.

Another thing I get to do with chocolate is the chocolate bands for the chocolate marquise cakes. In the beginning I found it challenging to get the chocolate covered cellophane to fit around the cake perfect, but with some practice I eventually got there.

The day comes to an end at approximately 3pm every day. Sometimes it can be a little bit earlier (when I’m lucky) but its frequently a bit after 3pm. I’m always wrecked after my workday, who ever said kitchen work was easy?...

(I did not make this, but this is Boulangerie Jades speciality wedding dessert: Croquembouche)

But my workday does not end here….
As I mentioned in my previous blog, I take care of kids as part of my accommodation deal.
The Afternoon shift: I collect the 2 boys, aged four and five from school at 3:30pm. Some days it’s a bit if a rush, and I take them home and make dinner for the family and sometimes I must put them to bed depending on their parents work situation. I get on well with the boys, but I really do have an appreciation for working mothers after my experience in London.

Night-time: I try to be in bed by 9pm every night so that I can get a full 8 hours of sleep. This doesn’t always go to plan…

So that’s a quick summary of my daily life Monday to Friday. I don’t work many weekends because while I’m on London I’ve used my time wisely. I have little to no nights out at the weekend. I’m far from living an exciting lifestyle in most people’s eyes, but I can assure you I’m thoroughly enjoying my time here. I use my free time at the weekends to do a Pilates instructing course. To be honest, I feel that I could have been a little lost with out having some sort of commitment at the weekend because though I get on well with my work colleagues, no one meets up outside the workplace. It gives me something fun to do and something I really enjoy during my free time, as well as keeping my back pain at bay, which I discussed in my previous blog. I would recommend for anyone moving away from home, to join a group of society to help with your social life because finding friends in a big city is challenging to say the least.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my London experience so far and take some of the things I’ve mentioned on board.
Thanks, for reading,
talk soon,

London, so far

My name is Kate Miller, and I’m a third year Culinary Arts student. As part of our third year, we must undertake a 12 week work placement abroad. Sounds exciting I know! As part of our course we have to post a blog about our experience to fill you all in on how we’re getting on. So here goes mine ...

 When I was in my Leaving Cert year, I chose my course, it’s a BA in Culinary Arts. The thought of a great adventure during my third year was what made me choose the course, apart from having a passion for food, the fact that a year of travelling was mandatory just made me fall in love! However, as the time grew closer, I no longer felt ecstatic or excited about leaving home to start an adventure in a strange country where I knew very few people. The thought of finding a job, accommodation and then what about friends? It was a lot to think about!

My journey began back in May 2019. I had secured a job in London city centre and my new employer to be, had so kindly offered me a place to stay for my first two weeks until I found my own place to live. I began working on a hot Monday morning at 6am. I had to drag myself out of bed and travel to work on a bus. I’m not used to public transport so travelling on a bus alone was something I knew I would have to get used to. Anyway, three days into my new job and I ended up at the doctors in pain unable to move as my back went into spasm. Unfortunately, the doctors here chose not to prescribe me anything for the pain and I knew that I would not be able to work the next day.
What a great start to my exciting adventure…

I weighed up the pro’s and cons of trying to work for the next 6 months, most likely making my back worse and to my disappointment, with advice from a physio and doctors I ended up going home only five days after arriving in London. I was so upset, I didn’t know what to do, I contemplated dropping out of college, or taking a year out. I had no idea how I was going to make this year work. It had taken me months to secure my placement in the first place and the fear of working in a kitchen in pain had me doubting weather or not I would manage.

But summer came and went, and the best decision I made was to come home to get better and make a new plan. So here I am now, just finished week four of my 12-week placement. I am working in a great patisserie in a Blackheath village in London called ‘Boulangerie Jade’. Over the summer I decided to come to London for a week and I was determined to get my work placement sorted somewhere that I knew I would be happy. The minute I walked into Boulangerie Jade I had a good feeling about the place. The atmosphere was good, the staff seemed very friendly and the pastries were just amazing. I made a few inquiries about the place, like do they make everything themselves, their working hours etc. I came to a decision that this was where I would do my work placement, yet they didn’t know that just yet! I managed to secure myself an internship, which is an unpaid work placement, so of course that’s not exactly ideal but it suits me.

                                                                                 A selection of cakes that we make in the bakery

This is a frontal view of where I work. Its so quaint and cute, and you get that very atmosphere when you go in.

The reason an unpaid internship suits me, is because even though I am living in London where the cost of living is extremely high, I do not pay for accommodation. I found a great family that live a 10-minute walking distance from work that give me accommodation in return for child care. My daily routine is, walking to work at 4:40am, I finish at 2:30pm. I collect the boys I mind from school at 3:15pm and bring them home and feed them. Their parents come home at 6:30pm and then I usually go to my room to relax for an hour or two before having to go to sleep. To be honest, I feel like I’m living the life of a mother for the last four weeks… but I’ve enjoyed it so far!

The early starts are probably the worst about the job, but the job itself is brilliant, I’v learned so much from the great head chef, and the staff are so friendly and have made me feel nothing but welcome.

This is me learning to pipe French macaroons. (Some of them came out slightly wonky!)

I couldn’t have asked for a better living situation. Basically, what I’m trying to get across to anyone reading this, or considering going on a work placement abroad for college is, have a plan, of course everyone needs a plan, but also know that plans don’t always work out, and sometimes they don’t work out for  a reason. The universe will always sort any problems we have out over time as long as we go into any difficult situation that’s been thrown our way with a positive attitude. Back in May, I was confused and upset because my plan had not been successful, but with the great support from my college lecturers, and my family and friends, I believe that my new plan was always the one that was meant to happen. I won’t pretend moving away has been a walk in the park for me or in any way extremely easy, it hasn’t at all. There are times when I’m feeling lonely and sad, but nothing worth while is ever easy. Leaving home, no matter how short of a period it is, will always be tough. But travelling and going on an adventure will never be something that you will regret!

Thanks for reading this, I hope you enjoyed it. For my next post will I go into more detail about my working experience.

A day in my life at Riverford

Hello again! 

Yasmine here with a little glimpse into a day in my life at Riverford! As I’ve said before Riverford is a reservation only restaurant, this is because the Field kitchen only has two seating’s a day. For the lunch service customers arrive at 12:30 p.m. to be seated and served drinks in time for lunch at 1:00 p.m. for dinner customers arrive at 7:00 p.m. for service at 7:30 p.m. These times are the same everyday with the exception of Sundays - where we do a brunch followed almost directly by a lunch service. Brunch is served at 12:30 p.m. and lunch is served at 4:00 p.m. this can be a difficult shift as all food for both services must be prepped before the first service as there is little time between the end of the first of the service and the start of the second service.

Each service has a basic menu set up that we follow, whenever possible we will try to use up any prepped foods from previous services to prevent food waste. The basic set up of each menu is usually something similar to this;
(Sourdough or focaccia)
1 or 2 snacks
(only 1 snack on a Sunday, other days can very depending on the quantity of produce available and the number of customers booked in)
2 starters
(starters are usually salads or slaws)
1 main
 (there is a choice between a vegetarian/vegan main or a meat main, the choice must be made at the point of booking so the chefs can prepare appropriate numbers)
2 sides
(sides are always vegetable based and have a wider variety of options then the starters, although some starters are altered slightly to be used as a side, but never on the same menu of course)
(Customers have a choice of desserts, there are a minimum of six puddings to choose from)

In order to prevent the chefs from having to work up to 15 hours a day, the chefs are split over two shifts. The morning shift arrives to prepare the lunch, which the evening shift prepare the dinner. On days that I work the lunch shift, Sundays or events I begin work between 8:00 – 8:30 a.m. for the dinner shift I arrive at 2:30 p.m. In order to be at work with enough time to change and be ready, I have to leave my house in Totnes town at least 40 minutes before my shift. It usually takes me 35 minutes to cycle the uphill gauntlet that is the Devon countryside, however some days’ take longer if I’m tired or I haven’t stretched properly before I leave the house. Stretching was something I (painfully) learned early on would be a necessary part of my routine before work…if I was to survive my time here. I’m able to cycle most of the journey on a national cycle network that keeps me off the main roads and on even paths. Cycling is a big part of life in Totnes, there are plenty of cycle paths and drivers are usually very courteous of cyclist. Thankfully (for me at least) the worst part of the cycle is going into work – I’m definitely of the mindset that I’d rather have the grueling task of cycling uphill before I’ve worked a day’s shift, then after.

Having never been much of a bike rider (or in fact a very active person at all) cycling has been a steep learning curve. This week has been my worst bike related week so far. I managed to make it four months without a bike accident - then have two in the space of five days. The first resulted in some bruising and a valuable lesson about breaking in the wet with mud covered leaves concealing the path. The second was a little more serious. My lace caught in the peddle of my bike, essentially binding me to the bike. When I tried to pull over to allow a car to pass, I fell on top of the handlebar – taking the end of the bar to the sternum. After being checked out at a local hospital I was assured I hadn’t broken anything, just a possible hairline fracture with definite bruising of the bone. Nothing for it but paracetamol, rest and deep breathing exercises. Thankfully I was able to take a day off leading up to my scheduled two days off in order to rest up. I was also advised not to lift heavy objects or to do any repetitively strenuous movements for up to six weeks, so this is being taken into consideration for me at work. I don’t mean to scare anyone away from taking up cycling or relying on a bike as transport during their placement year. I am the living embodiment of Calamity Jane, within my first ten days at Riverford I burnt my face on steam from one of the ovens and I sliced a small section of finger/nail off with a mandolin. So that’s the level of clumsy I’m working with, but now on two wheels. So don’t be put off by my inability to stay upright, cycling is great fun and a much cheaper option then buses or taxis!

I digress from my bicycle sob story, back into life at Riverford! Once I’ve huffed and puffed my way into work the first thing I do is go upstairs and change into my uniform. Then I usually go into the main office blog to the ‘fancy’ coffee machine, where all staff are free to have as many coffees, tea’s or hot chocolates as they like…so naturally I’ve developed a coffee dependency. From there I go down to the kitchen to liaison with the head chef of the shift, this could be one of three people at the moment – Lewis the head chef, Tom the sous chef or Anton the 2nd sous chef. The head chef will then talk through the entire menu then assign either parts of a dish or an entire dish to those on the shift. In an attempt to reduce waste we use any over prepped foods from the service before us, sometimes we get lucky and have an easy prep list. Other times we’re the shift that’s left with a bare fridge. As Riverford is an organic Farm we do have access to the warehouse where we can obtain fresh produce, we also get deliveries of dairy from the Riverford Dairy as well as meat deliveries from the organic butchers associated with Riverford. However, this means that we can be at the mercy of the warehouse and the farms. We can only be supplied with what they have at that time. We do of course have essentials delivered that can’t be produced by Riverford, this can include things like sugar, chocolate, olive oil, rock salt, etc. Every once in a while, we might have a day or two with what feels like an empty fridge (its not of course!) and this in times when we really have to push our knowledge of flavours to combine what we do have into a delicious meal.

Once we’ve each got our prep list, we go off and prep whatever we’ve been assigned. If/when we finished our lists we check to see if there is more to be done or clean down and set up for service. On quieter days we sometimes get lucky enough to prep for the next day, although we never really prep too much too long in advance.

The only real difference between the lunch or dinner shift is the start/finish times - and of course service times. All prepping and cleaning is to be done during your shift. As the kitchen is open, we have to have all areas cleaned down before customers arrive, annoyingly as we still use the areas for prep and service its an impossible task to truly keep the areas spotless. Customers love coming in the door is see us prepping or plating, so they tend not to notice the mess as much as us obsessive compulsive chefs do, thankfully. The general flow of cleaning works in stages.

We do our general prep and cooking. Clean down. Begin plating the snack and any cold starters, finish any cooking of mains or sides. Clean down. Plate sides and mains. Clean down. We keep any extras from service for staff, so at this stage most chefs take a small break to eat. Begin preparing custard, heating sticking toffee puddings and prepping a minimum of six desserts (always including the infamous sticky toffee pudding and custard, it’s on every selection of desserts - with the exception of events or working lunches). Clean down. Set out the desserts, utensils, cream, custard and bowls needed for service. Groups of tables are sent up to the pass to select their dessert, they can have one larger piece or two smaller pieces of any of the desserts. The selection always includes the sticky toffee and custard* it usually includes a ‘chocolate nemesis’ which is basically a baked chocolate mousse, some sort of fruit frangipane, then alternations of a selection of semi traditionally English puddings. I particularly like it when we use the ‘Root to Shoot’ method in the desserts – the fig leaf panna cotta for example is delicious. In-between groups of tables any crumbs are cleaned off the counter, once everyone has gotten their dessert, we clear everything. Clean down.

*Custard - Just as a side note, one valuable lesson I’ve learned from working the desserts at Riverford is that if you’re going to make custard you’d had better make sure there’s enough custard for every man, women, child and dog, or you’re going to have some very upset customers… I can assure you of that.

In terms of service not all the chefs on shift have a hand in plating, at least one person on shift acts as a kitchen porter of sorts and washes the dishes as they come off the floor. This isn’t always the case, but for convenience most to stick to where they are or switch over at desserts to prevent one person from having to do all the washing. Once desserts are finished, we do a final clean down and clear all the plates from service. This is the only time where the shifts have a noticeable difference. If you work the lunch shift you clean down to allow the dinner shift to come through – then you prep or do any other odd jobs the chef might need you to do. You stay until five o’clock unless otherwise arranged. On the dinner shift though, your end time is dependent on the customers or the flow of the shift. On average over the summer we’d get out at 10:30 p.m. now in the autumn with the slower pace and smaller bookings we average 10:00 p.m. Some days you’re still swamped, you might not get out for half an hour after the average or you might get out half an hour early. It’s all in the luck of the draw.

Regardless of what time I’m off I’m still not home for another 30-35 minutes as I still have to cycle, it’s grand on the way back for the most part. With the exception of Staverton Hill (as I call it anyway) – my pronunciation of Staverton with a soft a, as opposed to a longer a, annoys and dismays all those who hear it. It’s not consciously deliberate, I just read it as I see it. However, I do get a little giddy moment when I see people recoil in revulsion at my ‘prominent’ Irish accent. Why you might ask? Well that’s hard to explain unless you’ve heard my accent, which really couldn’t be any less prominently Irish if I tried. I think I just relish the opportunity to mess with an Englishman’s head for a second. Very naughty of me but oh well… I’m definitely not going to stop.

So that’s it folks! Although the general workflow is different to how I’ve worked before it’s really not all that different in terms of prepping and cooking. I’m still a commis chef so I spend most of my days working on sides, starters or snacks, nothing particularly riveting, the excitement/challenge comes from trying to create delicious dishes with the limitations of what you have around you. I love the challenge, time and time again KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) is proven as the best method when working with heavily vegetable based menu, I’m constantly astounded by the difference a bit sauce or spice/nut mix can make to even the most boring of veggies.

As I’ve said (to just about anyone who will listen) I love my job at Riverford, the work and the fact that thought and consideration has been paid to chefs. I’m approaching the end of my placement, only 6 weeks left now… honestly, I’m terribly sad about it! Although I’m so very excited for the next phase in the Netherlands I’m going to miss everything I’m doing here. I still can’t believe I only have 6 weeks left; it really does feel as if I only landed in Totnes yesterday! I’m so glad I got the longest placement I could there is no way I could have truly taken on all that Riverford has to offer in 3 months, 6 months hasn’t been enough time to take it all in.

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Early starts in London!

Hi again, it's Clara here!

Six weeks in now and I’m well and truly settled in Paul Rhodes Bakery in London! Work begins at six every morning, however unfortunately with a 40 minute commute everyday it means it starts at 4.30 for me but luckily that also means I get to finish at 3 or 4. This took a while to get used to but after a couple of weeks I was well used to it and really enjoying finishing  work at this time! Unfortunately I haven’t got to use this time to see London as I should have as the early start has caught up on me by then and I'm usually wrecked! 

As an artisan baker I start everyday with making the sourdough starters for that day and also for the following day. I then move onto the breads that will need the most time to proof before baking so I start with a selection of rye breads, the focaccia and some of the other artisanal breads. Then there’s time for a short coffee break before we begin with the highest demanding bread; the London sourdough and then the rest of the breads. 

The production kitchen is very multi-cultural and at the beginning this was a bit of a challenge as there were few people who spoke English as their first language and tended to speak their own language to each other, however after a short time this changed and everyone there is very friendly, easy to work with and very patient and always willing to pull me aside and take the time to explain something to me in detail. They are all aware I am there to learn and they make a big effort to ensure this.

Luckily I do have however weekends off and my favourite thing to do is make my way around to many of the amazing markets in London including Borough market, Southbank centre food market, Camden Market, Greenwich Market and Brixton. The diversity and creativity of the food scene in London is one the reasons I chose here in the first place. These markets offer an array of some of the best street food around, baked goods, fresh produce and have something to suit everyone’s dietary needs and no matter how many times you go back to the same market there is always something different to try. Having been to London before I had already seen many of the sights and main attractions of London and so I wanted to spend more time discovering the food scene.

Over the next six weeks I'm hoping to continue learning what I can in the bakery and maybe manage my time a bit better so that I can get out and see as much of London as I can and experience some of the nightlife!

London calling!

Hi, my name is Clara and I am a third-year culinary arts student living and working in London on a twelve-week placement.

I am currently working in Paul Rhodes Bakery as an assistant baker and am really enjoying the work so far. However, this was not my initial plan and I had a bit of a rocky start to begin with. When I first started to think about my placement, London came to mind straight away as there is endless options when it comes to finding a job and something for everyone I also thought it was an ideal opportunity to get to experience London properly not to mention I wasn’t a million miles away from home. I knew I wanted to work in a bakery and started the process by applying to many bakeries around London hoping that I would hear from at least one, but it was definitely more difficult than I had thought and I got very little response back. As I was only looking for a twelve-week placement and couldn't start until September I wasn't a priority and the people looking for summer work got first preference. It was also a mistake not going over to London and physically walking into these places with my CV as I think this would have been more effective and showed more enthusiasm. So when I eventually got a job offer I took it up without hesitation.

Sourdough production: Step 1
I arrived in London in early September with a work placement secured in a production kitchen called Pollen and Grace which catered for alternative diets specialising in dairy free, gluten free and vegan. I had been in contact with the head chef throughout the summer over the phone and through email and everything was set for me to start. Unfortunately I had not gotten the chance to go over to London before my start date so I hadn't seen the place that I would be working until two days before I was due to start and this was a mistake as when I went to visit it I realised it was not what I had expected and the work that I would be undertaking was not what i was hoping to be doing. I turned down the job and began to look for a new one, which proved to be a lot easier when I was in the country and able to offer trial days and interviews. I received many job offerings in the first few days and carried out trial days and interviews and found a job by the end of the week as an assistant artisan baker in Paul Rhodes Bakery.
Step 2

Step 3
Having just completed my first month here in London and in the bakery I feel that I am settling into work and into the city life. I am hoping now that I have found my way a bit more here I will get the chance to see and experience all that London has to offer in the next couple of months!

Finished product

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.