Isla Cruickshank attended the Three Month Beginners Certificate at Edinburgh New Town Cookery School in September 2012. Since then she has used her qualification to find work during gap years and university holidays. We asked Isla to talk to us about herself, her training and what she has been doing since she left us.
What encouraged you to undertake a cookery course?
I grew up on a farm in Aberdeenshire and surrounded by a big farming family where food was always at the centre of events. As a child I was brought up on traditional food made from scratch and so it became a big part of my childhood; helping in the kitchens at Christmas and birthdays etc. I really enjoyed being able to host lots of family and friends from a young age.
I was 17 when I left school I wanted to take a gap year to pursue other interests, and cookery was the first one to spring to mind. It was a suggestion of my mum and a very good one at that. It also for me was the first step in moving away from home. The location in the city of Edinburgh was a major attraction for me. The Edinburgh New Town Cookery School is so central, and I was very lucky to find lodgings just down the road so it was an easy decision. I also liked the idea of the set up and class sizes: it all seemed very personal and not intimidating to my seventeen year old self.
For me, it was a case of elaborating on what my mum and grandma had taught me and improving my skills in the kitchen. I remember looking at the course plan and thinking ‘why would I need to learn how to make an omelette?’ As it seems so basic, but actually the best part of the course for me was that it really took you from the basics onwards. It instilled an understanding of how things work and left me with the ability to apply the thinking across the board once I got onto more complicated dishes long after I left the school.
What areas of the ENTCS Course inspired you?
I loved all the baking and bread making we did and it was very interesting to learn the science behind it. However once I found my feet, I loved the experimental cookery days that we had: this was a complete dream for me, being allowed to use absolutely any ingredients and go wild. But this was also a brilliant way of teaching us how to be selective and really make the most of ingredients.
What are the top things you learnt that have been most useful?
Menu Planning – I cannot stress how helpful it was to have to write up menus and get them critiqued by the tutors. On every job the first thing they do is request menus and the theory/homework side of the course is so helpful with this.
Time plan, time plan, time plan – It is true that you get better at this the more you cook, but I still write basic time plans when I have larger numbers as it just keeps me calm and everything running smoothly.
Budgeting- discussing this on the course prepared me for the reality of a job. We had budgeting homework to do and it was really good practise.
What are you doing now and where has your journey taken you?
I am now an art student in Glasgow, having taken four years out since I left the cookery school. I now use my cookery skills during my holidays as my means of income to support myself and get my work through a cook’s agency. Cooking has allowed me to travel the world in the past few years by doing returning seasonal work in a shooting lodge and a ski season in Austria which was interspersed with travel. I started off as an assistant at the shooting lodge and by the second year they asked me back and gave me a lot more responsibility (and even a couple weeks as head cook) which was a great experience.
What would you say to someone who is considering taking the course at The Edinburgh New Town Cookery School?
Go for it! You will learn so much more than you can imagine. It is a skill that will stand you in great stead for the rest of your life, regardless of how you use it after the course. And if you do want to go into catering this is such a strong foundation for your future.
Do you have any advice for newly qualified students?
Take any opportunity that comes to you and learn from every person you work with. My first job was supposed to just be as a kitchen assistant, but because I showed interest and intent on learning, the cooks I worked with invested a lot of time in me and enhanced my training massively. Also, be friendly and polite to all the guests you meet on your jobs as you soon find that people talk a lot and a good reputation for your food and personality will absolutely bag you your next job!