Epi Rogan completed the Professional Three Month Certificate course at Dublin Cookery School and was selected as the winner of the inaugural Dublin Cookery School, Blackrock Scholarship. Here, she explains how the course has helped her achieve her dream of a successful career in the food industry.
What were you doing before you started your course?
I was living down in Cork, working front of house in a restaurant in the city centre called Le Gourmandise and also working part-time selling homemade produce at a couple of the local food markets.
When did you realise that you wanted to pursue a career in the food industry?
I came to the realisation that I wanted a career in food relatively late in life (late twenties). During my time at Le Gourmandise, I was always fascinated about what was happening in the kitchen. Pat, the head chef, was very passionate and I suppose you could say he inspired me to push myself and to pursue my dreams. Having worked in that environment, I realised that the only way I’d be able to realise my dream would be to go to cookery school and give myself a solid foundation that I could build upon.
What was it that attracted you to the school in the first place? What made it different from other courses/cookery schools?
I was attracted to the school because it felt a lot more modern than other cookery schools I had seen and was a better fit for me. The idea that I could train for three months and then potentially get a job in a restaurant kitchen straight after really excited me. From looking at the website and going on a tour of the school, I was really impressed with the facilities, what the course covered and Lynda’s passion for food really shone through when I talked with her.
Describe your experience on the Three Month Certificate course. What were your highlights and your biggest challenges?
The first thing that stood out to me when I started the course was just how amazing all of the tutors were. I felt really lucky to be able to learn from such skilled and passionate people.
They would always find time to help you master a skill or give you career advice. Before I started at the school, I was never that interested in pastry or desserts but that all changed when Lynda spent a day showing us how to make chocolates and macaroons. I’ve never seen someone so passionate about something before – it was infectious!
One of my favourite elements of the course were the pop-up restaurant nights. Having been on the other side of things for so long in my old waitressing job, I really enjoyed finally being in the kitchen, working as part of a team and cooking really good quality food for so many people.
What was it like ‘staging’ under John Wyer at Forest Avenue?
I spent four days working with chef John Wyer at his restaurant Forest Avenue as part of the course and loved every minute. John is such a great, patient and passionate teacher. Working alongside him was an eye-opening experience. It gave me a real appreciation for how far I’d come in my first six weeks on the course but also how much further I needed to go. The accuracy of their work but also the speed at which they completed prep tasks was mind-blowing. From that point on, it made me care about doing everything perfectly. I remember watching John butcher a whole leg of venison and thinking that you could tell he really loved his job. After my placement finished, I continued working at the restaurant on Tuesday nights during the rest of the course as I was keen to learn more and practise my new skills as much as possible.
What were the main things that you took away from the course and how did it help prepare you for life working in a professional kitchen?
The main thing that I took away from the course was confidence and the self-belief that I knew how to do all of the basics properly and that I felt I was good enough to get a restaurant job straight after. I’d never have reached the same level that I did if I’d just tried learning on the job in a kitchen. The course is very practical – you learn a hell of a lot in such a short space of time.
Describe your journey post the cookery school. What was it like working at Bastible for one of the city’s most talented chefs?
Shortly after I’d finished the course, one of my friends mentioned that they’d just read a great review in the Irish Times about a new restaurant called Bastible. I decided to pop in and have a chat to Barry Fitzgerald (head chef/owner). He knew Lynda well was also aware of the strong reputation of the Dublin Cookery School course. On that basis, he invited me to ‘stage’ at the restaurant for a few days to show him what I could do.
Without the Three Month course behind me, there’s no way I would have got my foot in the door.
During the ‘stage’, I was helping with the prep for service and plating the desserts. Shortly after Christmas (and only a few weeks after finishing my course), Barry offered me a full-time job which I was delighted to accept. Working with Barry and as part of the small team at Bastible was amazing. It exposed me to a lot of things and Barry’s a really lovely and incredibly patient person to work for. During my eight months there, I used to ‘stage’ at other top restaurants on my days off – something which Barry encouraged all of his staff to do. I gained experience at the likes of Michelin-starred The Greenhouse and Chapter One and Mulberry Garden in Donnybrook. It was whilst ‘staging’ at The Greenhouse that I met Chris, who later on offered me my new job as a pastry chef at new restaurant called Old Street which is due to open in Malahide in the New Year. The restaurant will seat 80 – 100 people (a much bigger volume than I’ve been used to previously) and I’ll be responsible for my own pastry section so I’m thrilled and very much looking forward to the new challenge.
Has working in a professional kitchen matched your dreams and expectations?
It has totally surpassed my expectations. I have come a lot further in the last 12 months than I ever thought possible and I’ve been lucky enough to learn from and work with some really smart, driven people who love what they do and share the same passion for food.
Where do you see yourself in five years time?
I’d love to be running my own kitchen in Dublin and eventually open my own place.
What one piece advice would you offer to someone considering doing the Three Month course at Dublin Cookery School?
Dublin Cookery School, Blackrock