Alumni Stories: Emily Crocker

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Alumni Stories: Emily Crocker

The route into a career in food is not always linear. That’s certainly the case for Emily Crocker a trained journalist, mother of four, and founder of Stories (her café, supper club and events brand). Her Leiths journey began with enrolling on the Essential Cooking Certificate in September. She’s since taken the decision to embark on the two term Diploma in January. This isn’t the typical route to the Diploma (the vast majority of students follow the programme across three terms) but it suits Emily’s experience. Camilla Schneideman, Leiths’ Managing Director says: “If a highly motivated student comes to us and is looking for ways to complete the Diploma that will save them time and ultimately money, students like Emily are a perfect example of how, for the right person, this can be a successful route. The Essential Certificate covers the majority of the skills from the Foundation term, so highly motivated students who are willing to practise their skills with plenty of repetition at home – and preferably have some level of professional experience – can use the Essentials certificate as a pathway onto the 2 Term Diploma which starts in January every year.”

What prompted you to sign up for the Essential Cooking Certificate at Leiths?

“I was actually booked onto the course pre Covid, but then Covid happened and I also fell pregnant with twins, so that meant I had to delay things by a couple of years. My background is in journalism – I trained as a journalist after university, and still do freelance writing now. On the side, I set up my own café in Leeds which is where I’m from. It was meant to be just coffee and very simple food but I quickly realised based on where I was positioned and the market at the time that I needed to provide a full food menu. So I learned on the go, thinking on my feet, winged it a bit, set a kitchen up in the basement and Stories became a fully operational all-day brunch café. I’ve always loved food but that was when I was like, OK, I really really love this. I loved the element of changing the menu and the seasonality, and training people up. I knew then I wanted it to be more than just a hobby.

After three years I sold the café and we relocated to London. I did some supper clubs in London under the Stories banner, and worked for an event space doing marketing and event organisation, helping other people run supper clubs and pop-ups. When my youngest two children, the twins, were about six months and my head was above water again, I thought I’m ready now. I did the Essential Cooking Certificate in September, and have decided to stay on to do the two term Diploma.”

Given you already had run a successful kitchen, why did you feel you wanted formal training?

“The food was really popular and people were willing to pay money for it, but there was always that sense that I was limited by my own knowledge. I didn’t ever feel I could progress. We did some pop-up evening events but I still felt like I was winging it and I don’t really like feeling like that. Some people thrive on that but for me to take it any further, I wanted to have that grounding.”

How did you find the Essential Cooking Certificate?

“I’ve learned so much from a theory point of view, understanding why you do certain things. Before doing the Essential, you might follow a recipe and know you’re supposed to, for example, have eggs at room temperature when making a cake, but you don’t ever question it. You’ve read it in a recipe at some point and taken it at face value. That has been amazing, understanding what the processes actually mean and why you can’t really cut corners with cooking if you care about the end product. It’s made me a much more organised and diligent cook in that respect. I really do take care of each process and think about what I’m doing. Before, [my food] tasted nice but it was a bit chaotic. I’m a lot more methodical now.

And what made you decide to stay on and join the Diploma?

“I just don’t feel finished, I don’t feel done. It’s whetted my appetite, and helped me commit to the idea of making a career out of this, even though I’m not exactly sure what that’s going to look like. It’s piqued my interest and I want to keep learning. I’ve used the money from the sale of the lease to fund it. Making the decision to stay on and do the Diploma was huge for me because that money was there for my career. I’ve always been toying with setting up another café where I live now, but I’ve decided I want to invest most of that in learning and getting myself to where I want to be. I’ve been out of work for a couple of years and it’s been massive for my confidence doing this course.”

How do you see your career developing?

“I would really love to do more in the food writing world and get some work experience, because that’s always been a passion of mine. I don’t want to stop writing. I never will. I don’t want to set up a restaurant at the moment, maybe in ten years’ time, but I know what’s involved with a café. I want to move on to the next challenge. Some form of event catering company, coupled with some food-writing. If I was dreaming, that’s what it would look like.”

Author: Hilary Armstrong


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