Caitlin Walsh knew early on that she wanted to be a chef. She chose not to go to university after A Levels in order to enrol at Leiths, where she was awarded Student of the Year in 2018. Now a chef de partie in pastry at Harrods, Caitlin was this year crowned Royal Academy of Culinary Arts’ Young Pastry Chef of the Year.
What were you doing before Leiths?
“Before Leiths, I was at school doing my A Levels. I did food technology for both my GCSEs and my A Levels and I just wanted to go straight into cooking from there. I didn’t look at university. I didn’t know whether I wanted to do main kitchen or pastry which is one of the reasons I chose Leiths, because it does everything. As soon as I went to the open day at Leiths, I knew for sure it was where I wanted to go. I absolutely loved it.”
How did you feel starting at Leiths at 18?
“It was a bit intimidating because I was coming straight out of school and there were people who had already been working in the industry. I was nervous but what’s so great about Leiths is they teach you from the beginning; they don’t assume that you know things. You learn how to do things properly from the beginning, then once you know the foundations, you can just go from there.”
What are you doing now?
“After Leiths, I did some work experience, including a month at Claridge’s in pastry. That cemented that I wanted to go into pastry. Then, literally a few months after I finished at Leiths, I saw a job opening at Harrods as a temporary pastry chef for Christmas. They offered me the commis job and I’ve stayed ever since. It will be four years in October. I’m currently a chef de partie in pastry, running a section of 12 people. We do everything for the shop, for all of the restaurants and a few outside concessions. There have been quite a lot of restaurant openings recently so for example we do all the pastry for the Jason Atherton restaurant within Harrods. It’s a good place to meet people and learn a lot. We have lots of different products: patisserie, celebration cakes, dessert…”
Would you recommend starting Leiths at 18?
“I was really happy with my decision. I’m glad I went straight into it. It’s such a good thing to do when you’re young. You’re starting off early and taught straight off how you do everything correctly; when you have previous knowledge, you tend to go off that. A lot of what I learned at Leiths, especially in terms of time plans and organisation, is definitely reflected in what I do now.”
What advice would you have for a young student embarking on the Diploma?
“Go in with a completely open mind and just take advantage of everything like the teachers and all the knowledge they have. People tend to hold back when they’re nervous but at the end of the day the course is only nine months so you really need to make the most out of it. Make the most out of all the demonstrations; ask all the questions; practise when you can; and just enjoy it really.”
What are your plans for the future?
“My plans are pretty much just to work my way up. I’d like to experience different sides of the industry, some restaurants, maybe some smaller production and hotels, and build up my experience and knowledge in order to get further. My main goal at the moment is to go to sous chef, go to head chef somewhere.”
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