Caitriona, who hails from Co. Laois, completed our Professional Three Month Certificate course in December 2012. Here, she explains why she chose to do the course and what she’s up to now.
In my mid-twenties, I worked as cabin crew for Emirates and spent four years living out in Dubai before returning home to work for Air Arran. It was at this point that I decided I wanted to get a degree and studied Occupational Therapy at University College Cork for three years.
In my role as a qualified Occupational Therapist, I was helping patients to become independent and helping them to find their ‘bliss’, yet I felt ‘paralaysed’ in the job. I wasn’t feeling fulfilled and a close friend of mine knew how much I loved to cook (I’d been helping my mother to bake ever since I could reach the counter top) and suggested that I explore my passion for food and look into a full-time cookery course.
I was lucky enough to get a place on Lynda’s cookery course last minute, and from day one, I knew that I’d made the right decision – all of the senses that I’d learnt so much about as a therapist – taste, sight, touch, smell, and sound – were being thoroughly stimulated every day.
When you’re not cooking, you’re eating and when you’re not eating, you’re watching food being cooked – I’d found my bliss!
I remember learning how to cook a delicious pasta dish with pistachios and parma ham on day and thinking to myself – “I’ve definitely come to the right place!”. I grew up on a farm in Laois and I was being introduced to things at the school on a daily basis that I’d either never cooked with before or working with flavour combinations that I’d never previously considered. I was just on a constant buzz!
Another thing I was massively impressed by were the facilities – Lynda only uses the best quality ingredients and you quickly realise that she has very high standards – all of the equipment is top quality, from the knives to the saucepans and the Thermomix’s. It gives the school a real quality stamp!
On a daily basis we were taught by Lynda and John & Sandy Wyer (who have since opened their own restaurant, Forest Avenue). They were always full of enthusiasm for their craft and you just couldn’t help but feel inspired! The guest chefs on our course included some of Dublin’s top culinary talent – Stephen Gibson (Pichet), Niall O’Sullivan (BANG) and Richard Gleeson (now owns Dooks Fine Foods) and I really enjoyed the three pop-up nights we hosted – I loved the adrenaline of service. It was such a buzz and really gave you a taste of what cooking restaurant quality food is like and the intensity of it all.
Whenever I’ve spoken to anyone that’s asked me about the course, I’ve described it as progressive, contemporary and ahead of the curve. Those three months at the school gave me so much pleasure and the best part was that I left with a qualification that meant I could change careers. Employers recognise that the students coming out of the school have been taught to a really high standard.
Come the end of the course, I didn’t really have a clear idea of what I wanted to do – I just knew that I didn’t want to be working somewhere serving high volume and I wanted to cook healthy food. I treated my first year out of the cookery school as a bit of a gap year – I just wanted to get as much experience as I could across as many different areas as possible with the aim of ending 2013 with a clear idea of the direction I wanted to go in.
Doing the course opened a lot of doors for me. Over the proceeding weeks and months, I went on quite the culinary journey; from working for Clodagh McKenna to a six month stint managing a café kitchen in Kildare, ‘staging’ at MacNean House with Neven Maguire, selling my own homemade breads and cakes at farmer’s markets in Galway and testing recipes as a Home Economist for Sharon Hearne-Smith on photo shoots – I tried a bit of everything.
The following year I came up with the idea of combing my Occupational Therapy and my cookery school qualifications. I approached national schools with a proposal to teach my own sensory food education programme, which was really well received. I was helping children aged 4 to 12 years of age better understand what goes into their food, which also led to me running my own cookery camps in the local community hall during the school holidays.
It was at the end of 2015 that I start doing my own private cheffing gigs. It’s something that I kind of fell into by accident, but I’m so glad I did. I’ve spent the last two years working as a private chef for families all over the UK and Ireland taking me as far afield as the South of France and Corfu. I love living and working on-site, getting to know everyone and the variety that working for so many different families gives me. A lot of my business comes by word of mouth – as the saying goes, you’re only as good as your last job. I already have 6 months worth of bookings lined up for 2018 so I’m really happy with how things are going!