The Sweet Life
The business of Cheffing
As a Pastry Chef at Hotel Westport LINDA ROGERS (21) combines her passion for food with a love of business.
You would imagine that working in an accountancy practice and a professional kitchen couldn’t be more different, but these were the two career options Linda Rogers was trying to choose between when she sat down to fill out the CAO form that would help chart her future.
‘I was torn between accountancy and cheffing,’ says the 21-year-old Hotel Westport Pastry Chef who has been making waves in the culinary community, working with some of the top names in the business. ‘My first taste of kitchen service came during my Transition Year work experience. I started in the breakfast buffet and spent some time in the pastry section. I got on well and the hotel offered me a job that summer.’
It wasn’t love at first sight, explains Linda. ‘In the beginning I wasn’t sure that working in kitchens was for me. I didn’t really like it at first, but soon grew to love it. I like working with my hands and when you see a dish come together you get a great sense of accomplishment. Plus I love working with a team, there is always a buzz in the kitchen.’
Still unsure if life as a full-time chef was for her, Linda was veering between applying for culinary and accountancy courses through the CAO when she came across the Higher Certificate in Culinary Arts in Galway Mayo Institute of Technology. ‘I noticed there was a module about the Essentials of Business and that accounting would be covered so I knew it would be a good option for me.’
On completion of the course, graduates could progress to the Bachelor of Business in Culinary Arts Management programme, which was a big draw for Linda. ‘I really enjoyed the business side of the course and I know that wherever my career takes me, I now have a good grounding in business.’
Linda combined her studies with work at Galway’s famous G Hotel, one of Ireland’s most colourful and stylish hotels. While cheffing is often described as a ‘boys’ club’, this wasn’t the case in The G. ‘That was a female dominated kitchen. The Head Chef was a woman, Pauline Reilly, and there were three girls working in the pastry section when I began. There were a lot of girls on my course too. I think the idea that cheffing is a male dominated industry is changing. You see more women working in professional kitchens now and the industry is better for it.’
For her international placement, Linda headed to the UK and the kitchens of the luxurious Coworth Park, Ascot where she worked under renowned chefs Simon Whitley and Herbert Brindl. ‘It was hard work and long hours but a great experience. You got to see how the other half lives. Money was no object and the budgets for the ingredients were incredible – you wouldn’t see anything like it here in Ireland. The guests at the hotel were from a different world; they were very wealthy and included many celebrities. The hotel was once closed for a week to accommodate one guest. We never knew who it was but every morning we had to pass through a metal detector before we were allowed into work.’
A Passion for Pastry
On completion of college and with a first class honours degree under her arm, Linda went back to her roots in Hotel Westport and now leads the pastry section in the hotel’s bustling kitchen. She discovered during her time at GMIT that pastry was her passion. ‘I enjoy the structure of the pastry section. I like being able to follow a recipe, and plating a dessert is nicer than other courses!’
At Hotel Westport, Linda is also dispelling the myth that you always have to work long hours if you are a chef. ‘Here we have nine hour shifts and we rarely work overtime. You’ll either work 1pm–10pm or 2pm–11pm, or on prep days, where you are preparing the ingredients for that day’s service, you will work 9am–6pm.’
As well as running the pastry show at Hotel Westport, Linda is making appearances on stages across Ireland. She assisted top Irish chefs Kevin Thornton and Edward Hayden at Galway’s BakeFest, supported British celebrity chef Michel Roux Jr and his daughter, the pastry chef Emily Roux, at an event in Claregalway Castle, staged her own demo at Westport Food Festival, and volunteered at the Blas Na hÉireann Irish Food Awards, where she organised the food sensory test. She has also picked up a number of her own awards along the way, including a medal at the CATEX Chef Ireland competition and a Student Achievement Award from GMIT. It is no wonder, therefore, that her bosses at Hotel Westport have named her as ‘One to Watch’ in the future.
Volunteering at food festivals has been fun. ‘I like being back-of-house so I thought I’d hate it but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed them. They helped me build up my confidence here in work, encouraging me to do demos with the guests and it has been great. You get feedback straight away.’
Would Linda encourage other young food lovers to follow her into the kitchen after school? ‘It’s a great job. It’s exciting and rewarding, but not everyone is suited to it. You have to be able to work under pressure and be willing to do unsociable hours but if you have a passion for food and you’re not afraid of hard work, then you’ll enjoy it.’ The perks are worth it, she adds, particularly if you have been bitten by the travel bug. ‘For people my age it’s a really good way of travelling. You can go anywhere in the world without needing a big pot of money as you’ll always find work in this industry.’
The Next Steps
While she’s enjoying her career so far, Linda hasn’t ruled out a change in the future and her interest in accounting never left her. The Bachelor of Business in Culinary Arts Management gave her great insight into business practices in general but also those specific to the foodservice industry, including health inspection and other roles, and she sees herself combining her twin loves of food and business more and more as she advances in her career. ‘You need to have a Plan B, no matter what career you go into. Now that I have completed Level 8, I can go on to Level 9 in accountancy. That is the beauty of a course like this. It’s a business course first and foremost so you’re never limited to one role. You study marketing, HR, law and accountancy so there are lots of different paths you can pursue.’