When did you discover your passion for pâtisserie and how did you become a teaching chef? I was lucky in that my mother was a great cook. She would cook all of our meals and treats from scratch and she first taught me to bake. She was an old-fashioned, intuitive cook and never used a scale; a pinch of this, a cup of that – it always worked perfectly. I enjoyed baking so much with her, that I applied to catering college. I never really thought about doing anything else. In the first few days at college, I fell in love with kitchen life, the brigade, the camaraderie and the atmosphere. It felt like where I belonged. Someone once said “If you find a job you love, you will never work a day in your life”, and that’s been true. As a chef in a working kitchen you have to teach and inspire your colleagues every day, and that’s what I do here. I became a teaching chef at Le Cordon Bleu because I wanted to pass on my knowledge and experience to the next generation of chefs and this is the best place in the world to do that.
Why is teaching at Le Cordon Bleu culinary arts school so special to you? Le Cordon Bleu institute is about excellence and passion. The teachers have the freedom to show their expertise and passion through exceptional artistic work, which we demonstrate to our students every day. As teachers it is our job to nurture the students to evolve and develop into their most creative selves in the kitchen. Not every one of them wishes to be a 3 Michelin star chef, or for some even to end up working in a professional kitchen at all and that’s fine, we just want to help them make whatever their dream is a reality by being the best they can be. We provide students the skillset they need to progress in a range of careers from cake decorator, business owner, consultant, pâtisserie chef and more. While they learn the professional fundamental techniques, they are encouraged to develop their own creative ideas and personalise their work. As a teaching chef, it is always rewarding to see how the students we taught are developing and being successful in their chosen career. We are proud to be training new talents and contributing to the evolution of the industry not only in the UK but globally, since we have over 90 nationalities studying at Le Cordon Bleu London every year.
As well as practical sessions in the kitchen, how does Le Cordon Bleu provide opportunities for students to develop fundamental skills during their studies? Our students have some amazing opportunities when studying with us. We have an array of enrichment events students can attend including our monthly guest chef demonstrations, culinary conferences, careers fair and field trips. Those events are additional experiences and great networking opportunities for students who want to make the most of their time at Le Cordon Bleu. Being world-renowned for our culinary credentials also means that we are asked to participate in some astonishing projects. Last year, we had a team of students helping us recreating Queen Elizabeth’s royal wedding cake in celebration of her 70th wedding anniversary, which was featured on an ITV documentary. As much as we can, we ask for students to help participate in these, once-in-a-lifetime projects.
Who are the courses at Le Cordon Bleu designed for? Anyone can come and study at Le Cordon Bleu. From the absolute beginner, who has never cracked an egg to the working chef who needs to re-boot their career. There is no age limit – any food passionate who is eager to develop a career in hospitality, to those who just want to learn. We also have related courses in food photography, nutrition and wine, not to mention our specialist programmes such as Boulangerie and Cake Decorating.
What advice would you give to an aspiring pastry chef or baker looking to take the next step? Working as a pastry chef or baker is not what you see on TV. You do not enter this profession to become rich or famous, you do it because you enjoy making people happy with the food you create. There is a lot of hard work involved, it is a physically exhausting role and you will be expected to work long, antisocial hours including weekends and holidays in often uncomfortable surroundings. If you can visit as many kitchens or bakeries as you can (ask the chef if you can look around between shifts if possible) you will get the feel of what a real kitchen is like. Once you have decided it’s for you, then you should enrol in a culinary institute that teaches you the fundamentals of classic cooking techniques, which is what we focus on at Le Cordon Bleu London. There is no point learning recipes if you do not understand and have a solid foundation of the techniques behind them. Once you have a solid mastery of these techniques, the possibilities are endless.
Many thanks to Chef Julie Walsh for taking the time to talk to us. You can find out more about Le Cordon Bleu here.