Fiona Stevens, who hails from Dublin completed the Professional Three Month Certificate Course at Dublin Cookery School and now works as a full time chef in The Pig's Ear on Nassau Street.
What were you doing before you started the course?
I completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Education at Trinity College Dublin to become a secondary school teacher, after which I taught in schools for two years.
What prompted you to do the Three Month cookery course at Dublin Cookery School?
Unfortunately there weren’t many full-time teaching jobs available in Ireland at that time so I actually made more money working part-time in a restaurant (Tribeca in Ranelagh) than I did as a newly qualified teacher. I slowly began to realise that I preferred my time in the restaurant and felt more comfortable as a front of house manager than I did being a teacher.
I also loved to cook and took on a couple of private catering gigs for friends and family. I really enjoyed doing and it got me thinking, if people are willing to pay me to cook for them, then maybe I should consider cooking professionally.
What were the highlights and challenges for you personally on the course?
I loved the day that we spent foraging with Niall O’Sullivan. I’d never foraged before and it gave me a real appreciation of all the amazing natural produce that is available on our doorstep and how versatile it is. I also really enjoyed our overnight trip to Paul Flynn’s Tannery Cookery School in Dungarvan. I remember one of the chefs from The Tannery coming in for part of the day and showing us how to make the restaurant’s chocolate tart – I was so impressed at how comfortable and confident he looked and it really got me thinking about the type of place I’d like to work in after the course.
One of my biggest challenges (and also one of my favourites) on the course were our freestyle Monday cookery sessions. We’d arrive into the school on a Monday morning and be given different ingredients to choose from. Each of the students on the course then had to create their own dish – it allowed us to experiment with different flavour combinations and presentation techniques.
Describe your journey post the cookery school
Since I finished the course, I’ve worked in a few different kitchens to get as much experience as I can. Sue Campbell, a contact I made through the cookery school (and a past Certificate student at the school) put me in contact with an old colleague of hers who ran film catering contracts. This lead to me working on the set of Vikings in the Wicklow Mountains for six weeks. It was a great opportunity and gave me invaluable experience of on-site catering and cooking food in large volumes – we were responsible for cooking food for six hundred cast and crew every day.
Once the filming finished, I started applying for jobs at restaurants in Dublin and got offered a permanent position in Brother Hubbard on Capel Street. After working there for only six weeks, the owners offered me the chance to help them set up and launch their new cafe, Sister Sadie, which I gladly accepted. I started working there four weeks before it was due to open. At that stage, the building was an empty shell, so another chef and I who moved across with me were responsible for planning everything from the layout of the kitchen and ordering equipment to the design of the new menu.
After a successful opening, that included me managing the kitchen alongside another chef, I decided that I’d like to pursue a different path. I loved getting experience of working in a cafe business but I wanted to challenge myself further and see what it would be like to work in a fine dining restaurant kitchen.
I took Niall O’Sullivan’s (who I met on the foraging day) advice and emailed as many fine dining restaurants in Dublin as I could which resulted in me going for a trial at The Pig’s Ear on Nassau Street – they offered me a job the same day. It transpired that their pastry chef was due to leave couple of days later so I had forty eight hours to learn the eight different dessert dishes on the restaurant’s menu. It was a steep learning curve but it was a challenge that I relished. I’ve now been a full-time chef at the restaurant for eight months.
“The restaurant specialises in Irish fine dining using the best of Irish produce so the food we produce is really interesting to cook and it’s exciting for me to be working at such a high level so soon after the course.”
What advice would you give someone considering the Three Month course?
My advice would be to be brave – throw yourself into the course and don’t be afraid to ask questions or take risks. Lynda and the tutors are a great resource to have at your disposal so take full advantage of this whilst you’re at the school. They will happily answer your questions and they’ll go also above and beyond to help you – both Lynda and Richard Gleeson (Senior Tutor) gave me invaluable career advice and put me in contact with key people in the food industry, helping me to build a successful career.
View a full profile of Lynda Booth's Cookery School here.